Wednesday, 24 September 2014

The Vanishing Witch and meeting Karen Maitland

I really enjoy reading Karen Maitland's dark tales, in particular loved The Company of Liars and The Owl Killers. All her books have a unique narration from five different narrators in The Owl Killers to a mandrake in The Gallow's Curse. The Vanishing Witch is no different and is told from a all-seeing ghost and their pet ferret, with the odd chapter of first person narration from two key female characters.

The book starts with Maitland's usual list of players and a grim tale about a snake. We are then introduced to our narrator and Robert of Bassingham, a wealthy wool merchant in Lincoln. He is asked for help in investments by Mistress Caitlin who has been recently widowed and he soon becomes close to her and her enchanting teenage daughter Leonia must to the annoyance of his wife and son. Robert begins to see an eerie cloaked figure following him and there are some suspicious deaths and incidents throughout the town and surrounding villages, but who is to blame?

The Vanishing Witch is a mix of the supernatural, witchcraft, old wives tales and historical detail. Set during the unrestful reign of Richard II, the author explores how the poll tax affected the village folk and landowners and what caused ordinary people to rise up and rebel causing destruction and horrific deaths. Each chapter begins with a charm which can ward off evil. Some are amusing while others are terrifying. The author provides the reader with a timeline of events by splitting chapters up into months and introducing each chapter with either a location or the name of the narrator.

I did guess one of the twists early on, but there is a reveal on the last pages which I did not expect and Maitland's clever storytelling slowly builds up the climax. The action centres on the London riots during one part of the book as a couple of the characters get caught up in the destruction of John of Gaunt's palace. The book concludes with some historical notes and a glossary of terms which was very interesting and proves how well researched her books are.

I was fortunate to buy this book when Karen Maitland was visiting my local Waterstones store in Uxbridge and we had a lovely chat with her about her interests in old tales and the imposing English countryside. She joked about the dark themes she was interested in and how The Gallow's Curse was the first book to be narrated by a root vegetable! Thanks to the lovely staff at Waterstones for arranging this!

Friday, 5 September 2014

I Can't Begin To Tell You

I have read a lot of WWI and WWII books and this book really intrigued me as a woman's point of war in the spy network during WWII. The idea of the story is a great one, but I found the editing and style of writing really poor. The dialogue especially is really weak, with almost every sentence uttered by a character ending with an ellipsis or containing one. While researched well with the way codes worked when sending messages, the book came across as poorly researched with key conversations completely abandoned with sentences such as 'They discussed this further' or 'After more talking'. (These are not direct quotes by the way, just what I remember the writing being like).

I could not connect to any of the characters and the characters based in London Ruby and Mary are introduced so briefly and suddenly I kept thinking I had missed pages out. The beginning chapters begin with 'Day One' up to 'Day Three' but this is then abandoned and I found the concept of time hard to understand. A short line at the beginning of each chapter introducing the location, month and year would have been really useful as the storyline kept jumping around with no warning. However, I did read a proof copy so hopefully the final publication will be easier to read and better edited. The main part of the book is set in Denmark and the names of dogs, horses and even a spy - Thor, Odin, Sif and Loki -felt really lazy.

I really would not recommend this book - if you are looking for a story of women involved in underground resistance during WWI head for Citadel by Kate Mosse instead.

**SPOILERS** I also found the end so odd - with the whole family together when two of them are supposed to be undercover spies. The relationship between Tanne and Felix was not realistic at all and the way Felix trusted Kay and Tanne almost immediately did not ring true.