Book Review: The Owl Killers by Karen Maitland

owlkillers ngland, 1321. Deep in the heart of countryside lies an isolated village governed by a sinister regime of Owl Masters – theirs is a pagan world of terror and blackmail, where neighbour denounces neighbour and sin is punishable by murder. This dark status quo is disturbed by the arrival of a house of religious women, who establish a community outside the village. Why do their crops succeed when village crops fail; their cattle survive despite the plague? But petty jealousy turns deadly when the women give refuge to a young martyr. For she dies a gruesome death after spitting the sacramental host into flames that can’t burn it – what magic is this? Or is the martyr now a saint and the host a holy relic? Accusations of witchcraft and heresy run rife while the Owl Masters rain down hellfire and torment on the women, who must look to their faith to save them from the lengthening shadow of Evil … a shadow with predatory, terrifying talons.

Set in the mid-14th century, this is of an isolated village in England, where the old religion hasn’t quite been usurped by Christianity. The obligatory witch lives on the edge of town, the gargoyles on the church are still a little too paganistic for some and the “outlanders” are still to be suspected.

These outlanders include the Squire and his family, who is still despised after generations living there.

The Beguines – a group of women who are near nun-like in their vows to the Church, but work in the community – are also outsiders, and are to be suspected even more when their crops don’t fail and their livestock don’t succumb to a local disease.

The priest has been sent down from Norwich to serve penance for doing more than breaking his vow of chastity.

Told in various different voices, this is a page-turning read and only took a few days to finish. There were a couple of characters who you did wonder what they were there for apart from showing what life was like back then (e.g. the leper, the two children who lost their mother in a flood). I also thought that the battling against the owl master by the Servant Martha at the end was just a little too…..simple? easy? I don’t know…

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