Karen Maitland is the single most reviewed author on this blog (one of the highlights of being a book blogger was the time one of my reviews made it into a proof copy of her last book). I’ve even interviewed her. Obviously I get excited when a new book comes out- and thankfully Ms. Maitland is a quick writer, so I never have to wait long.
Like her other novels, A Gathering of Ghosts is set in the Middle Ages, this time 14th century Dartmoor, a backdrop of poverty and famine driving the characters to commit desperate acts of survival.
A cast of seemingly disparate characters live within the pages of the novel: a prioress, saddled with a meddling knight; a young woman cast out of her village, fighting to find her way in the dangerous world of tin mining; the youngest daughter of a wise-woman who may be more talented than she’s given credit for; a little blind boy who has mysteriously found his way to the priory. All are seemingly connected to a holy well, usurped by the nuns from the traditional folklore- but how? There’s treachery, the battle between the old gods and the new, and the battle to just survive if you’re poor, old or a woman. Sometimes the Middle Ages can feel incredibly relevant in a society that feels like it’s teetering on a knife-age. What lessons have we learnt in 600 years, I wonder?
Like a skilled weaver at her loom, Maitland combines these narratives effortlessly- I felt the same as I do when I watch something like The Bridge. You don’t know how all these people will connect, but you accept that they will and so you go along for the ride, because you know it’ll make sense in the end.
And what a ride this is- religious fervour, superstition and a good old fashioned creepy kid thrown in for good measure meant that I was hooked from the get-go. No one in this novel was ever safe and that makes for a thrilling read and one that will envelope you into its world quite happily. I also appreciate the historical notes at the end of the novel, which made my little nerdy heart happy indeed.
Now I just have to wait until the next book.