Book Review: The Plague Charmer, by Karen Maitland

Publisher:   Headline Review

Publication date:   20th October 2016

The Plague Charmer My Review

The Plague CharmerThe players appearing in this medieval theatre in Portlock Weir are simple folk and have absolutely no concept of what horrors the script of The Plague Charmer has in store for them.

As the Great Pestilence returns for the second time to this costal village it holds its ailing residents hostage and won’t release them from its grip. That is until they pay the price that has been asked by a mysterious stranger rescued from the churning tide, although they began to regret their good deed almost immediately.

The arrival of the deadly infection coincides with a foreboding darkness in the form of an eclipse which signifies to some that the end of the world is nigh. This phenomenon creates the perfect conditions for a primitive survival mechanism to thrive. But barring your draughty door to your neighbour will not keep you safe from a vengeful conjuror who demands the impossible – one human life.

With a shortage of volunteers willing to throw their name in the ring to appease their unwelcome visitor, the gaggle of villagers and carefully selected supporting cast from outside Port Weir will immerse you in their layered, flailing world as they consider their options.

Depicted in a series of strikingly filthy and harrowing scenes as the sickness takes root, the alternating chapters are headed with the character’s name and are often accompanied by curious riddle. At first their stories appear disconnected, yet their individual challenges are united in one common cause – The Plague Charmer. Also stirred into the mix is malice, superstition, humiliation, vengeance, judgement, or far worse – becoming the focus of something inexplicable, or otherworldly.

Although this book has a higher than average page count to what I’m used to every one of them is worth savouring. And as an added bonus there’s an interesting glossary at the back of the book together with answers to the riddles posed in the chapter introductions. This is followed by a brief historical reference for some of the characters who step away from their place in ‘real’ world to make a guest appearance in The Plague Charmer.

The lyrical prose is impressive, yet feels so effortless. Without a doubt Karen Maitland is an author who spins the most wonderful words to create intricate historical tapestries for readers to feast their eyes upon.

Rating:  4/5

(I received a digital copy of this title from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an unbiased review, with my thanks.)

The Plague Charmer Book Summary

(Courtesy of Amazon UK)

The Plague Charmer, by Queen of the Dark Ages and bestselling author of Company of Liars, Karen Maitland, will chill and delight fans of Kate Mosse and C.J. Sansom in equal measure. ‘A compelling blend of historical grit and supernatural twists’ – Daily Mail

Riddle me this: I have a price, but it cannot be paid in gold or silver.

1361. Porlock Weir, Exmoor. Thirteen years after the Great Pestilence, plague strikes England for the second time. Sara, a packhorse man’s wife, remembers the horror all too well and fears for safety of her children. Only a dark-haired stranger offers help, but at a price that no one will pay.

Fear gives way to hysteria in the village and, when the sickness spreads to her family, Sara finds herself locked away by neighbours she has trusted for years. And, as her husband – and then others – begin to die, the cost no longer seems so unthinkable.

The price that I ask, from one willing to pay… A human life.


The Plague Charmer Author Profile

(Courtesy of Amazon UK)

Karen Maitland travelled and worked in many parts of the United Kingdom before settling for many years in the beautiful medieval city of Lincoln, an inspiration for her writing. She is the author of The White Room, Company of Liars, The Owl Killers, The Gallows Curse, The Falcons of Fire and Ice, The Vanishing Witch and The Raven’s Head. She has recently relocated to a life of rural bliss in Devon.



Karen Maitland Short Stories