New Read: The Raven’s Head

The Raven's Head

The night’s are drawing in and the weather has cooled, quite dramatically. The perfect time to continue my R.I.P reading with The Raven’s Head by Karen Maitland. A historical tale with a supernatural twist.

France 1224 – apprentice librarian Vincent stumbles across a powerful secret about Philippe, le Comte de Lingones, and his family. After a botched blackmail attempt Vincent finds himself on the run, with no home or friends, in possession of a mysterious carved silver raven’s head. Vincent is an arrogant, ambitious and foolish teenager. I didn’t really like him to be honest, but he is an interesting character to read about and it was his sections of the story that had the real pace for me. Vincent makes his way by selling elaborate stories to solve problems and hide secrets. Subconsciously though the raven’s head is bending him to its will.

England 1224 – Gisa the apothecary’s niece finds herself the source of interest for Lord Sylvain, a dark mage and alchemist, who seems to have a sinister plan. While little Wilky, renamed Regulus, finds himself torn from his family as Father Arthmael and his fearful White Canons take a keen interest in him. Poor Gisa and Wilky! By no fault of their own they find themselves in the centre of some peculiar and dangerous plans. While I preferred and sympathised with Gisa, Wilky and the other boys their sections of the story were a little slow; perhaps because they didn’t journey like Vincent did. By the end of the novel they were all brought together for a dark, magical, dramatic and tragic climax.

This is the first novel I have read by Karen Maitland, after hearing lots of interesting things about her work. I thought The Raven’s Head was well-written, with intricate detail, and well researched and believable historical setting. I could picture perfectly Vincent’s cramped little turret room, the organised and interesting apothecary shop, and Lord Sylvain’s jumbled and mysterious tower where he prepares and performs his dark magic. I also had a pervading sense throughout the book of poverty, death, grime and fear. It was so strong I could really feel it. I think however this book was just a little too dark for me to love it. In hindsight I can’t remember one moment of humour, peace or hope which made it a little depressing.

The Raven’s Head was a dark and atmospheric read, perfect for the R.I.P event, but I think I might need a more upbeat book next to balance it out. Good read.

Thank you to the publishers for providing a copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for my honest opinion.

Have you read this? Have you read anything else by Karen Maitland?

R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril X – 2/4

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12 thoughts on “New Read: The Raven’s Head

    1. Lory, I can understand why you think this might be too dark for you. From what I’ve heard from other bloggers, Maitland’s earlier work is less dark. I would like to read more of her work.

    1. I am pleased to hear you have enjoyed so many of Maitland’s novels. I have heard good things about her previous work; in particular I have been recommended The Company of Liars. I will definitely have to keep this in mind for future reading.

  1. I read this a few months ago and I also found it a little bit too dark, although I did love the setting. The only other Karen Maitland book I’ve read is The Vanishing Witch, which I enjoyed more than this one. I’m looking forward to trying her earlier books, as I’ve heard they’re better than her latest ones.

    1. Helen it is comforting to hear I am not alone in finding this a little too dark. From what I’ve heard from other bloggers they have enjoyed her earlier work even more. I have been recommended The Company of Liars.

  2. Great review, I absolutely love Karen Maitland’s work and have been meaning to pick up a copy of this for quite a while! There is a free e-short available on the history behind this book, if it’s of interest, called ‘The Dangerous Art of Alchemy’.

  3. The Raven’s Head was right at the limit of my comfort zone for horrific detail – I nearly gave up but found I had to read on and finish it.I liked the historical setting very much. I prefer her earlier books – The Company of Liars: a novel of the plague and Owl Killers more than this. The Vanishing Witch is a bit slow and long, but again great setting with elements of the supernatural and suspicions of witchcraft.

    1. Margaret, I can definitely sympathise with how this would take you out of your comfort zone. I am pleased you also enjoyed the setting though, and Maitland’s earlier work. I think I will have to keep The Company of Liars and Owl Killers in mind for future reading.

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