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Tinney S. Heath
5.0 out of 5 starsVivid and compelling
Reviewed in the United States on January 24, 2019
This is another riveting novel by a fine writer at the top of her game. Nobody does setting quite like Maitland; the reader feels the damp, the cold - in fact, every discomfort the unfortunate characters suffer is there to experience. I know that doesn't sound like much fun, but it makes for an unforgettable reading experience. The two women who gradually emerge as the main characters are also powerfully depicted, and I thought the storytelling from different points of view worked very effectively. I didn't feel things had to move any faster than they did. This was an immersion experience, and having it romp along at a quicker pace would have detracted from the story and seemed unnatural. Highly recommended, for atmosphere and character and also for the singular paranormal elements.
Reviewed in the United States on September 30, 2020
I have to admit that I struggled with this book. I purchased it on the strength of having read Ms. Maitland's earlier "Company of Liars", which I thoroughly enjoyed. This book did not make it for me and I have been wondering why since completing it; but I may have hit upon the reason. It may just be about me. I have never thought of myself as being anti-feminist, indeed just the opposite but perhaps like many other people, men in particular, I may have been just fooling myself. Looking back over the story, the very few male characters that are in this tale are all brutish, sadistic, cruel, PTSD sufferers from The Crusades, drunkards or just lame-brained. And who knows, maybe that's the way all the men in the Medieval Ages really were? By contrast, all the women within this story, from the highest ranked to the help in the kitchen all seem to possess profound wisdom, endless strength and great character. A few even transcend the everyday world of their sister travelers here on earth and commune with the very forces of nature. Once again, maybe that's the way women were back then. But the net result of this collection of stereotypes didn't make for an enjoyable read; at least not for this reader.
Unable to rate this as highly as other reviewers. When I initially read the synopsis it ticked so many of my reading "likes" that I'm left feeling a tad deflated. I did enjoy the bleak and claustrophobic atmosphere, the isolation, the setting of Dartmoor. I also enjoyed the rituals of the "Old Ways" when paganism ruled across the land.
However, this was a very slow read, the "build up" was in simmer mode until very much the end of the novel. Found it difficult to empathise with the main characters here due to the fact that the story is again told from several differing points of view. I've enjoyed this type of delivery in the past but it didn't quite work here. For this reader it was the secondary characters that were the most interesting, Eva and the tortured Sebastian.
4.0 out of 5 starsA very good writer who always knows her subject matter and keeps the hooks in you.
Reviewed in the United States on July 21, 2021
This is the fourth novel I've read from Karen Maitland. She consistently impresses me with her knowledge of period details and very solid characterizations. A Gathering of Ghosts is eerie, beautiful, sometimes funny and witty and very engaging. If you enjoy stories set in the late Dark Ages (1300-1400's), her stories will appeal to you. The only other writer I would put on her level is CJ Sansom (another UK writer whose stories take place in the 1500s). Although her settings are often grim and deal with the intersection of Christianity and leftover paganism, she infuses her stories with light moments and great plot twists. Definitely recommend.
5.0 out of 5 starsExcellent Medieval Mystery with Supernatural Twists
Reviewed in the United States on September 7, 2018
Every time I read a new Karen Maitland book I have this fear that the spell is going to be broken – well not this time. For me, Karen is the master of the medieval thriller with a twist of supernatural menace. England in the 12th century sits on the edge between religious belief and pagan superstition, nowhere is this more prevalent than on wild expanses of Dartmoor, or previously known as Dertemora (Moor in the Dart valley). A Gathering of Ghosts is a brilliant book full of atmosphere that takes you into an eerie, foreboding, superstitious world where legends and myths are all too close. Karen’s writing pulls at every physical sense that captivates you and keeps teasing with demonic forces that are terrifyingly close.
The central location of the story is the Hospitaller’s Priory of St Mary, in a remote location in Dartmoor and its surrounding area.
“Other side of that priory stands the most accursed hill on the whole moor. Old ‘uns called it Fire Tor, but some call it Ghost Tor. You can hear the dead whispering among the rocks.”
In the surrounding area, camps of ‘tinners’ are ferociously mining the landscape for tin to provide King Edward II with the materials he needs to build weapons for his wars.
“The King’s decreed that any man has the right to look for tin on anyone’s land as he pleases, without let or hindrance.”
This scenery is vividly brought to life and the weather-beaten conditions create a dark and dreary rain-soaked landscape, adding to the overall sense of damnation.
The Priory, run by Prioress Johanne, houses an ancient well that the church is built on and they have dedicated it to St Bridget, although the locals originally know it as Bryde’s Well. Various unconnected characters have apparitions of a blood-drenched scene and are drawn to the Priory – for what, they do not know. One of these visions is seen by Sister Fina, the sister responsible for managing the well and the pilgrims that attend it. Flustered and terrified she leaves the underground well to find a deaf-mute boy standing alone in the church. Feeling he is abandoned they take him in and by way of discovering more take him to the blind priest in the hope, he may connect better. The priest’s response is alarming in that he warns them all that if the boy stays he’ll bring down a curse on all their heads. Next morning the priest is dead. Prioress Johanne must keep the superstitions and fears at bay as the priory is visited by Knight Brother Nicholas and his groom, Brother Alban, on a mission to investigate possible pilfering of priory’s monies. She has her own secrets to hide and the game of cat and mouse with Nicholas is full of suspense.
The other blood-scene apparitions are experienced by Sorrel, a poor girl disfigured at birth with a deformed arm, and Morwen the daughter of Kendra the former keeper of the well. Kendra is someone that can communicate directly with the spirits and conjure charms and spells. She will pass her gift to one of her daughters but Morwen is not expected to be the one. Morwen is, however, growing in strength as she can feel the spirits. All these characters are really well depicted and play a wonderful part in creating a totally immersive story of secrets, threats, superstition, and retribution from the Earth and the ancient world.
The history of the order of the Knights of St John of Jerusalem, also known as the Hospitaller Knights Brothers and Sisters, is really interesting and although aligned with the Templar Knights, is not as well-known. Originally founded as a hospital in Jerusalem in 1080 they provided care and refuge for the poor, sick and injured pilgrims in the Holy Lands. Today St John Ambulance takes its name from the Hospitaller Knights.
Karen Maitland undertakes deep research in the background to her books but doesn’t allow it to consume her story. As a way of providing insight into those details, she includes historical notes and a glossary of terms that I find adds fantastic value to the whole experience. I simply find Karen Maitland’s stories totally mesmeric and full of clever suspense.
I would like to thank Headline Publishing and NetGalley, for an ARC version of the book in return for an honest review.
5.0 out of 5 starsAn Amazing Supernatural Adventure!
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on April 19, 2020
This very thrilling book by the author, Karen Maitland, is another superb dark tale which is set in the Middle Ages.
At the beginning of the book you'll find two beautiful pieces, one a prophecy, the other a poem, while there's also a list of Characters, and at the end of the book you'll notice very well documented Historical Notes and Glossary concerning this great story.
It's another excellent tale in which the ingredients, witchery, black magic, superstition, Christianity, faith, intrigue and power will play an important part, and they will keep you spellbound right till the end.
The book is set in the year AD 1316, in and around Dartmoor (Dertemora), in the south of England, during the reign of King Edward II.
The book is on the one hand about certain people who have supernatural powers, like Morwen and Sorrel, and who believe in the old Gods, like Brigid, while on the other hand there's the Hospitallers' Priory of St Mary, Dartmoor, where the Sisters and the Knight, Nicholas, believe in the faith of Jezus and God.
These two different kinds of beliefs will clash with each other in the believe that theirs is the right kind of faith, and that will invoke hostilities and of course certain deaths.
What is to follow is an excellent dark tale, where all the afore mentioned ingredients will come to fruition to make this tale a most compelling and enjoyable read, in which the rights and wrongs of people in the Middle Ages, as well as the strengths and weaknesses, Christian or pagan beliefs, hunger and deaths, and where the atmosphere and very dark times of this period of history are wonderfully pictured.
Highly recommended, for this is another superb and exciting dark Middle Ages tale, from an author who has the skill to execute it most excellently, and that's why I like to call this fascinating book: "An Amazing Supernatural Adventure"!
5.0 out of 5 starsNo-one describes this period of history like Karen Maitland
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on October 27, 2018
I've been a fan since Company of Liars (though I felt she'd gone a bit astray with The Vanishing Witch and The Raven's Head). The writing in this is exquisite. You can really see, hear, smell, feel, and taste the period: soaked clothes never drying out, damp mouldy houses, watery food, stinking corpses, foetid smells and so on.
As usual her characters are unexpected and different.
I would knock it down half a star for the same problem I always find in her books. She sets up a complex and colourful world; then the ending is weak, rushed, and confused.
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on October 14, 2018
I really hate to admit that I'm slightly disappointed with this book. I have read all karen Maitlands other books and found myself immediately immersed into another era and transfixed, but I haven't found this with A Gathering of Ghosts. The characters aren't particularly strong, the historical context isn't as interesting and I have found myself forgetting what has previously happened when I return to the book,which has never happened before.
Karen Maitland is a brilliant writer of historical fiction with an incredible ability to bring the past vividly to life. You don't just read her books, you experience them.
As you become immersed in the tale, you find yourself accepting magic to be as real a part of life as did her characters of long ago. There are no heroes to cheer for and the villains are more like flawed individuals than truly evil. Just like real people.
Here we have a story of ordinary people being swept along on a tidal wave of historical events which ultimately leads each of the players to a destiny that remains shrouded in mystery.
Another Maitland tale that would make a great TV drama...