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The Raven's Head by Karen Maitland

The Raven's Head (2015)

by Karen Maitland

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I won this book in a Goodreads giveaway. Review will be added later.
  crisana | Jun 2, 2016 |
A brilliantly engaging, fascinating tale of magic and superstition in Medieval Britain and France. Multiple story arcs collide to provide a suitably macabre and chilling ending and very gripping it is too. This is both before the conclusion and the journey to it. Good characterisation followed by good plotting makes this a story that fans of historical fiction won't want to miss. ( )
  aadyer | May 9, 2016 |
Vincent, an orphan scribe in France, discovers treachery and attempts to convey it to his master, Philippe, le Comte de Lingones, in the hope that his daughter Amée will fall madly in love with him. Vincent thinks he is being awarded by being given a mysterious silver Raven's head flask, but unbeknownst to him the ubiquitous Raven's head is etched with tiny carvings that mark it out as witchcraft and Vincent must flee France if he values his life.

This book was extremely difficult to follow. It can be separated in to two books, wherein one is narrated in the first person (present-tense) by Vincent-who later becomes Laurent-in a very conceited manner with no shame at all, and the other is narrated in the third person (present tense) and concerns Gisa, the niece of an apothecary and Wilky-who later becomes Regulus-, the son of a farmer, who is given to the White Canons in lieu of a debt.

I found that the first-person narrative disjointed the whole novel and it ceased to flow; the necessity to tell these parts in first person is a mystery to me. There were over 50 chapters, but each one was so short it felt as if it were being told via many stops and starts. Vincent as a character was as dull as he believed his life was and his "love" for the Comte's daughter was bile-rising. His journey from France to London was one huge Carry On Alchemist escapade with little actually happening, except the miraculous revelation that a man who has spent all his life surrounded by books can spin a good yarn.

The third person narratives were often very pleasant, though far too short and the present-tense narration was off-putting. The character of Wilky/Regulus was quite intriguing despite the fact he was a young boy who didn't understand what was happening, but since the chapters were much too short we couldn't really grasp his true feelings. Gisa of the Apothecary was a flat as her chest was, but she made the story move along which was the main point of her.

It was written well as much as something like this could be: the chopping and changing of narrative was, to me, very unnecessary and I felt it would have been a much better story had it been told in the more popular third person omniscient, though I appreciate the author for what she tried to do. There were occasional slips within the narrative, and at times I found myself really lost within the story because of the short chapters. It was a fairly good tale, though it seemed at times to just drag and I didn't find myself excited for any of the characters nor their fates. ( )
  Xleptodactylous | Apr 7, 2015 |
A magical, spellbinding and sinister tale involving the dark arts set in medieval England!

When a young librarian by the name of Vincent discovers a secret which could have disastrous consequences for his master, he decides to try a spot of blackmail which unfortunately backfires. He finds himself in desperate peril and on the run with an ornate silver raven's head in his possession which seems to have a life of its own. After several endeavours to be rid of the bird, he eventually comes into contact with the alarming and intimidating Lord Sylvain who has an evil plot on his mind.

This is a fast paced, captivating and atmospheric thriller which is thoroughly entertaining. It has a mysterious and gothic ambience and is decidedly eerie. It also combines fact with fiction, something I particularly enjoy. The historical aspect is well researched and depicted, whilst the supernatural slant keeps the reader on the edge of their seat. The characters are believable and I like that the ending is quite ambiguous, left to the imagination!

In a nutshell, I loved it, quite enchanted in fact. I'm a big fan of Karen Maitland's work and this was no exception. I thought it was a compelling, absorbing and hair-raising story which I can recommend to those who like historical fantasy. Many thanks to Lovereading.co.uk for giving me the opportunity to read and review this book. ( )
1 vote VanessaCW | Jan 29, 2015 |
Vincent was an English orphan surviving on the streets of Winchester, until the French army came with Prince Louis to claim the English throne from the boy king Henry III. Sensing an opportunity, he attached himself to the troops and was taken back to France, eventually becoming apprenticed to the librarian in the household of Philippe, the Comte de Lingones.

Now aged 17, he learns of a secret the Count is asking the librarian to hush up, and certain this knowledge makes him the noble’s equal, he resorts to blackmail. But the Comte de Lingones hasn’t risen to his present position at the French king’s court without cunning, and he is planning to have his revenge by giving Vincent instructions to deliver a flask with a silver raven’s head to one of the Count’s associates in the next town. Events take an unexpected turn, and eventually he arrives in Norfolk in England, where his fate becomes entwined with several local inhabitants.

Karen Maitland has made something of a name for herself in the genre of historical fiction with her darkly compelling novels, usually giving events a supernatural twist. I always enjoy her books – I’ve read all of them – but I believe her writing has never been better than in this latest offering. Told from multiple points of view, the connection between them is at first not evident, but as the novel progresses, it becomes clear that these divergent paths are eventually going to converge, and that events will culminate once they do. I won't give away more of the plot, as I feel Vincent's tortuous journey from France to Langley in Norfolk is something the reader should experience for themselves, but suffice to say that I was spellbound from start to finish. Karen Maitland's prose enables you to travel in time and through space and allows you to be an invisible observer at the events she describes; her characters are without fail living human beings with all their strengths and faults, and you will come to care deeply for them. In The Raven's Head, Karen Maitland introduces the reader to two of her most memorable – and terrifying – villains, and the story will linger on long after the final cover has been closed.

WARNING: This novel features scenes of child abuse and suffering which readers might find upsetting. (I did.)

(This review was written as part of Amazon's Vine programme.) ( )
  passion4reading | Nov 30, 2014 |
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Haiku summary
Vincent carries the
Raven's head to England – or
Is it guiding him?

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Vincent is an apprentice librarian who stumbles upon a secret powerful enough to destroy his master. With the foolish arrogance of youth, he attempts blackmail but the attempt fails and Vincent finds himself on the run and in possession of an intricately carved silver raven's head. Any attempt to sell the head fails ...until Vincent tries to palm it off on the intimidating Lord Sylvain - unbeknown to Vincent, a powerful Alchemist with an all-consuming quest. Once more Vincent's life is in danger because Sylvain and his neighbours, the menacing White Canons, consider him a predestined sacrifice in their shocking experiment.… (more)

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