Skip to main content

Review: The Owl Killers, by Karen Maitland


Set in the English village of Ulewic (fictional, but placed somewhere near Norwich) in 1321-22, The Owl Killers is the story of a village fighting against forces both known and unknown. At the story’s center is the town’s beguinage, a community of women originally from Bruges who came to England to lead lives independent of marriage or the convent. When the town suffers from flood and plague, and the women are unaffected, the people in the town start to suspect them of harboring a holy relic. Meanwhile, the village is controlled by a group of men called the Owl Masters and haunted by the specter of the Owlman, who delivers nothing but death and destructionto the places and people he visits.

The story is narrated by a number of characters, including the beguinage’s leader, Servant Martha; the angry and bitter beguine named Beatrice; the town’s self-righteous priest, Father Ulfrid; Osmanna, daughter of the lord of the manor who is sheltered by the beguines; and one of the village children. The novel contains a curious and intriguing combination of pagan belief and Christianity, witchcraft and superstition.

I don’t normally read books with supernatural themes, but The Owl Killers grabbed me from page one and refused to let me go. One of my favorite things about this book is the characters; each narrator has their own strong, unique voice (my favorite was the sensible, practical Servant Martha). Maitland shows the middle ages as they really were, and she does so perfectly. Maitland delivers the symbolism a little heavy-handedly (of the “a candle blows out and someone dies” variety), but I nevertheless enjoyed this novel. Read it, and you’ll never feel the same way about owls or men in masks again.

Comments

Sounds intriquing.
Wishing you a lovely Easter!
PD said…
I don't normally read supernatural either, but lately have been more interested. I might have to check this one out!

Paige
http://paigeofthebook.blogspot.com/
Oh yeah!!! I was SO wanting this one to be good. I really loved Maitland's other novel, Company of Liars. Really awesome review Katherine!

Popular posts from this blog

Review: Forever Amber, by Kathleen Winsor

Forever Amber takes place in the 1660s, immediately follwing Charles II's ("the Merry Monarch") return of the Stuarts to the English throne. The book features Amber St. Claire, a young woman who starts out as a sixteen-year-old country girl, naieve to the workings of the world. She immediately meets Bruce Carlton, a dashing young Cavalier, with whom she has a passionate love affair in choppy intervals throughout the book. They have two children together, but Bruce won't marry her for the reason he tells his friend Lord Almsbury: that Amber just isn't the kind of woman one marries.

Upon following Bruce to London, he goes to Virginia, leaving her to fend for herself. What follows is a series of affairs and four marriages, with Bruce coming back from America now and then. Amber's marriages are imprudent: her first husband is a gambler, her second is an old dotard, her third locks her up in the house for days and won't let her out; and the last is a fop who a…

Review: This Rough Magic, by Mary Stewart

Pages: 254Original date of publication: 1964My edition: 1964 (William Morrow)Why I decided to read: it was 90 degrees outside at the time and I decided it was time to read another book by a favorite authorHow I acquired my copy: from Susanna Kearsley, December 2009Sometimes, whether or not I decide to read a book depends on the weather. Mary Stewart’s books are best read on either very hot or very cold days; and since it was 90 degrees out one weekend a couple of weeks ago, I decided that this one would be perfect. And it was.This Rough Magic takes its title from The Tempest, a play from which this novel takes off. Lucy Waring is a struggling actress who comes to visit her sister on Corfu. One of her neighbors is a renowned actor who’s taken a bit of a sabbatical and his son, a musician with whom Lucy comes to blows at first. This Rough Magic is vintage Mary Stewart, with a murder or two, a mystery, romance, suspense, and lots of magic thrown in. Lucy is your typical Mary Stewart hero…

Review: Joy in the Morning, by Betty Smith

Pages: 294
Original date of publication: 1963
My edition: 2010 (Harper Perennial)
Why I decided to read:
How I acquired my copy: Barnes and Noble, Phoenix, January 2011


A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is one of my all-time favorite books and I’ve read it, oh, half a dozen times, so I was interested to see how Joy in the Morning would compare.

Set in the late 1920s, Joy in the Morning begins when Annie, aged 18, comes to a small Midwestern college town where her fiancĂ©e, Carl, is in law school. The novel opens with their marriage in the county courthouse, and follows the couple through their first year or so of marriage. It’s a struggle, because Carl and Annie are basically children themselves, for all the ways in which Carl tries to appear more adult-like.

Annie is endearing; she’s ignorant but a voracious reader, reading everything from Babbitt to War and Peace. Betty Smith’s novels are pretty autobiographical; Joy in the Morning is (unofficially) a kind of sequel to A Tree Grows in Brooklyn—cert…