Book Review: The Book of Whispers by Kimberley Starr

The Book of Whispers by Kimberley Starr

Demons are everywhere. But only Luca can see them. Having barely survived a torturous exorcism, he has since learned to keep his mouth shut about the creatures he sees lurking at the corners of his vision. When his father joins Pope Urban II on his crusade to take Jerusalem back, Luca defies his father to seek the church’s promise of divine forgiveness for crusaders. Once the journey begins, however, it becomes clear that the nature of Luca’s demons are not as simple as he previously thought. Coming into possession of a mysterious book of prophecy, and surrounded on all sides by devious relations, sinister clergymen, and terrifyingly powerful demons, Luca must avert disaster. 

This is a medieval crusader story by way of Game of Thrones. Your flawed protagonists find themselves set against devious and powerful opponents, the conflict more or less direct depending on the relative position of the baddie. Luca and Suzan, our teenaged protagonists, are nicely fleshed out and well written. The concept of the demons used in the book is original and interesting as well, and there is a definite sense of menace that pervades the book.

But for all that, the book just couldn’t keep my interest. A lot happens in this book, and a story set against a major crusade has plenty of exciting things going on, but there just wasn’t much sense of excitement for me reading the book. Despite the sense of dread I mentioned earlier (a feeling like waiting for the other shoe to drop), I simply didn’t feel any suspense or tension as the plot moved along.

So in sum, the historical details are great, the protagonists well written (though every other character is pared down to two dimensional sins), and the demonic aspects are interesting. But the book just never took off for me.

An advance copy of this book was provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. 

Book Review: Maladies and Medicine by Jennifer Evans and Sara Read

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Maladies and Medicine: Exploring Health & Healing, 1540-1740 by Jennifer Evans and Sara Reed

Europe in the 1600s was a strange place to be. Science and empirical data were beginning to subsume old superstition. The invention of the microscope opened up a whole new world to human sight. Discoveries in physics, medicine, and other fields slowly brought Europe into the modern age. But for a time, superstition and science existed as awkward bedfellows. Doctors tried to balance the ancient medical theories of Galen and Hippocrates with new, scientifically gathered data. It is this awkward stage that is front and center in Maladies and Medicine.

This is a straight-up history book. While the authors certainly inject frivolity and humor into the book, this is meant more for the dedicated history buff, and not for the casual reader. Evans and Reed, while admitting to the books limitations in scope (it’s a big topic), include a vast amount of information, conveniently divvied up by disease. The authors also delve into the differences between medical doctors, surgeons, midwives and other practicing women, and the unofficial medical practitioners. Each has their own origin and medical views, and it is curious to see when they agree, disagree, and borrow from one another.

History buffs will find a lot of great information (and a lot of cringe-worthy knowledge) in this book. If you’re interested in medieval history or medical history, this book is a great addition to your TBR. However, if you’re looking for a similar book for a more casual reader, you should check out Quackery by Lydia Kang.

An advance copy of this book was provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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.