Raven’s Head by Karen Maitland

The Raven's HeadA review by Nalini Haynes

ISBN: 9781472215079
Format: paperback, 468 pages
Publisher: Headline (Hachette)

The Raven’s Head is a gothic romance set in 13th century Europe.

Five-year-old Wilky is offered in trade for his father’s debt. The monks collect their due. The monks change Wilky’s name to Regulus before he’s settled in to the monastery.

A former street urchin called Vincent ingratiated himself into Duke Philippe’s household, becoming the apprentice scribe. Vincent has entitlement issues so he decides to blackmail the duke.

Gisa, assistant to her uncle the town apothecary, is forced to work for Lord Sylvain who needs a virgin to assist him.

These three tales are juxtaposed and, eventually, become interwoven after the cast assembles in the same town then, late in the story, they meet. These 3 characters are the primary points of view of the novel; Gisa and Regulus’s tales are told in 3rd person while Vincent’s tale is in the 1st person in a distinctly different voice. At times narration switches to other minor characters.

The unreliable narrator is a popular literary technique and yet there seemed little point to Vincent’s self-delusions other than him ensnaring himself. I would have preferred a consistent narrator’s voice, telling Vincent’s tale in the same voice used for Gisa and Regulus. Particularly when Vincent’s entitlement extends to narrating his intent to ignore Gisa’s wishes; this is a bit squicky.

The author’s endnotes summarize a wealth of historical research relating to the 13th century European setting, both political and cultural. However, the story itself has some inconsistencies like Gisa’s aunt knowing her backstory yet hoping Lord Sylvain would marry her.

I suspect The Raven’s Head would be popular with fans of Wuthering Heights and other gothic tales. Perhaps fans of Twilight? It’s not to my taste although I find it difficult to define why I enjoyed The Raven’s Head less than some other fantasy novels.

Rating: full starfull starfull starEmpty starEmpty star 3 out of 5 stars