Karen Maitland’s ability to create the 14th century English village scene is fantastic. The tug-of-war between religion and superstition is ever present, and the atmosphere is full of distrust. Into this fine balance comes a group of Beguine women who establish a community on their own land. Their female community work hard on the land and utilise many other skills that enable them to sell goods at the markets. Their independence is a threat to the church and the Lord of the region who control the locals and raise their money from the villagers.
The Beguine community is led by the capable Servant Martha and when crops fail for the villagers and hard times fall on the local community, the Beguines don’t experience the same problems and provide food and shelter for the starving at no cost. Obviously, the Lord and church are feeling it in their pockets and with a secret Owl Cult prepared to cause damage and harassment all is focused on making life difficult if not impossible for the Beguines.
The narrative comes from 5 characters including 2 Beguine women, a young village girl, the priest and the Lord’s daughter. Each character is fabulously drawn and the story illustrates their perspective on life, their preconception, motivations and beliefs. Life is harsh for common folk and in times of plague and disaster, starvation and homelessness became prevalent. The jealousies from the church caused them to be branded witches. While more Godly and Christain than the Church, they faced excommunication and also become a target from the pagan Owl Cult. The Owl Cult is secret but they must come from the area.
The plot is excellent, the pace is perfect, even when setting the scene, and the dialogue is captivating. The atmosphere of menace and foreboding is something that Karen Maitland does extremely well and that sense of apprehension and anxiety is brilliantly captured.
I would highly recommend this book as it is a joy to read.