Book Review: The Plague Charmer

The Plague Charmer By Karen Maitland

4 Stars out of 5
The year is 1361 and the sun has disappeared. The residents of tiny Porlock Weir can only watch in horror as the sun is swallowed up by a black disc, turning the afternoon sunshine into night. When the sun reappears a few minutes later, they are hardly comforted: this can only be a bad omen. That night, a storm rages along the coast, wrecking a ship upon the rocks outside the village. A sole survivor is pulled from the sea: a mysterious woman with eyes like a storm. The woman tells the villagers that the Great Pestilence is returning to England, to Porlock Weir, and she can save them from it, for a price.

The Plague Charmer is a complex novel, blending together multiple storylines and characters, all set against the dark, apocalyptic background of a Black Death epidemic. Maitland draws on real events and real people to make Plague Charmer feel authentic. We meet Sara, drayman’s wife; Matilda, the religious zealot; Will, man-made dwarf and former jester; and a host of others. We find black magic, ancient curses, heinous murders, and doomsday cults. We watch the fabric of society begin to crumble in the face of the Black Death. And we see all this within the microcosm of the tiny fishing village of Porlock Weir.

Maitland’s writing style is beautiful, and her characters are complex, each with their own distinctive voice. The story is has aspects of murder mystery, post-apocalyptic doom, love story, and fairy tale. We see how, when the end is nigh (and make no mistake, for people living in the 14th century, the Black Death epidemics may as well have been the apocalypse) some people will rise above, and some will sink to the darkest depths.

In all, this is a great choice for anyone fascinated by medieval history, or is looking for an off-the-beaten-track mystery novel.


An advance ebook was provided for review by the publisher via NetGalley.

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