This is an extremely promising first novel from SD Sykes which I found extremely readable and very entertaining. I am currently reading the Butcher Bird and finding it just as entertaining.
The story revolves around Oswald de Lacy, a reluctant teenage Lord of a manor that has recently been ravaged by the 1348-9 Black Death. His older brothers all died, forcing him to leave the church life he wanted to inherit the family land and its peasants.
Oswald is reluctant and lacking in confidence. Sykes does an excellent job in putting across both his youth and lack of life experience. Peasants are rude to him, servants lack respect and his family and local churchmen routinely expect to control him. This is not the life he wanted and so learning how to earn their respect does not come naturally.
The story revolves around a murder mystery that provokes local superstitious hysteria, as well as various sinister political motives of important rivals for power. The novel does very well on depicting basic peasant life and its harshness, as well as demonstrating the inherent unfairness of the society. Added to this is the tendency of the villagers to lose their heads over fears of monsters and God when a clever politician rules them up.
No one is going to pretend this is Charles Dickens. Characters are quite two dimensional, especially Oswald's mother and sister who do not really change at all. Some of Oswald's actions are slightly ridiculous and attitudes are all quite extreme.
But this was really well written and researched. I learned plenty about the beliefs and culture or the time, I was never bored with the story and I found it really entertaining.
As a first novel, I would expect that this author is only going to get better and if that is the case then we will have a genuine new big player on the historical fiction market
- Paperback: 352 pages
- Publisher: Hodder Paperbacks; 1 edition (11 August 2015)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1444785788
- ISBN-13: 978-1444785784
- Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 2.3 x 19.7 cm
- Boxed-product Weight: 240 g
- Customer Reviews: 240 customer ratings
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 248,980 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)