Book Review: The Butcher Bird (Somershill Manor Mystery #2), by S. D. Sykes

Publisher:  Hodder & Stoughton

Publication date: 

22nd October 2014 (Hardback & Ebook)

7th April 2016 (Paperback)

The Butcher Bird is a mesmerising mystery as an epidemic of a different kind arrives in Somershill, one spread by panic and fear. After disease flocked to our 14th century shores with no regard for social status, the years that follow breed superstition and madness, although it’s exceptionally difficult to tell which when dealing with the tenants under Oswald de Lacy’s jurisdiction.

Poor Oswald. The naïve, spoiled novice we met in Plague Land and watched as he solved a medieval mystery involving a desperate persecution among the locals, only to unearth more skeletons in his family’s cupboard than any person should have accrued in a lifetime.  Having left his cloistered life to reluctantly accept a title bestowed upon him, he discovers the hard way that time doesn’t heal everything: recent mass deaths have caused an abrupt shortage of labour, wage grievances entice his tenants to greener pastures, and the contempt the rest of the villagers feel for their newly appointed young Lord could easily result in heckling given the slightest opportunity.

Inadequacies of his servants, the senseless laws he must uphold, his mother re-enacting tragedy at every waking moment and her physician who believes dung cures all known ailments chips away at him from all sides. Add to that a heavily pregnant, condescending widow, who is also his sister, and her feral step-daughters, well, his Lordship is wrung out by the ordeal. Even his horse requires bribery before considering a command!

Oswald barely has a moment in private to consult the ‘tempting’ manuscript he keeps hidden in his room when The Butcher Bird arrives in Somershill. This most recent challenge is the fantastical reasoning to explain how infants are missing from the safety of their cribs and are found dead in nearby shrubbery. As Oswald has morphed into a human misery magnet, unwillingly attracting the manor’s redundant souls who can no longer find their place in this baron world, he is tasked with discovering the whereabouts of a murderous beast. More importantly he must intervene to prevent the lynching of a grief-stricken local man accused of inviting this winged creature to feast on children after he lost his own during the pestilence.

From this point onward, everything that cannot be explained by simple means is the fault of The Butcher Bird, or Oswald himself. The gravity of the grim riddle that taunts him is complimented by the amusing witlessness of humble folk, as they feign ignorance when it suits and develop a brutal shrewdness when beneficial. It’s essential in tales like these that the writing evokes the wretchedness of the era but in this case it also projects the physical disgust of our young investigator when approached by, well, people. At first he copes admirably, that is until they taint the moment by attempting to prolong a conversation, or heaven forbid touch him!

I’m incredibly fond of Oswald for both his poor judgement resulting from both an aversion to peasants and also his own confidence, even when he’s on the right track. Life is certainly more illuminating outside monastic walls; Oswald de Lacy may be a novice in every respect but he’s learning, and witnessing his progress after he’s considered the bleakness faced by others is the pearl in a sea of despair.

Rating:  5/5

Source: My own purchased copy. Another one off the personal TBR bites the dust, and quite brilliant it was too – just like Plague Land (Book 1) which I read back in 2014! Very much looking forward to City of Masks (Book 3) which will be published in July!

(Courtesy of Amazon UK)

Oswald de Lacy is growing up fast in his new position as Lord of Somershill Manor. The Black Death changed many things, and just as it took away his father and elder brothers, leaving Oswald to be recalled from the monastery where he expected to spend his life, so it has taken many of his villagers and servants. However, there is still the same amount of work to be done in the farms and fields, and the few people left to do it think they should be paid more – something the King himself has forbidden.

Just as anger begins to spread, the story of the Butcher Bird takes flight. People claim to have witnessed a huge creature in the skies. A new-born baby is found impaled on a thorn bush. And then more children disappear.

Convinced the bird is just a superstitious rumour, Oswald must discover what is really happening. He can expect no help from his snobbish mother and his scheming sister Clemence, who is determined to protect her own child, but happy to neglect her step-daughters.

From the plague-ruined villages of Kent to the thief-infested streets of London and the luxurious bedchamber of a bewitching lady, Oswald’s journey is full of danger, dark intrigue and shocking revelations.


(Courtesy of Amazon UK)

SD Sykes now lives in Kent, but grew up in Somerset and South London, before spending many years in the North West of England. She is a graduate from Manchester University, and has a Masters degree in Writing from Sheffield Hallam. She has a passion for medieval history and was inspired to finish her first novel after attending the novel writing course at literary agents, Curtis Brown. She has also written for radio, and has developed screenplays with Arts Council funding.