The Raven’s Head – Karen Maitland
Vincent is an apprentice librarian who stumbles upon a secret powerful enough to destroy his master. With the foolish arrogance of youth, he attempts blackmail but the attempt fails and Vincent finds himself on the run and in possession of an intricately carved silver raven’s head.
Any attempt to sell the head fails … until Vincent tries to palm it off on the intimidating Lord Sylvain – unbeknown to Vincent, a powerful Alchemist with an all-consuming quest. Once more Vincent’s life is in danger because Sylvain and his neighbours, the menacing White Canons, consider him a predestined sacrifice in their shocking experiment.
Thanks to Headline for my Netgalley review copy
The Raven’s Head started out with real promise. I loved reading about Vincent, the apprentice Librarian, who suffered the wrath of an irritable master day upon day. Vincent lived in a small book book-filled world and the times he got to venture further into his master’s kingdom, in and around the castle and grounds were great fun to read. Vincent had an outsider’s view of his community and Karen Maitland used this remoteness to expertly set up our view of the world.
The story does not just focus on Vincent though and we are soon introduced to Gisa, a young girl who works under her uncle as an apothecary. Gisa is more adept at her craft than she lets on to her uncle and is rapidly absorbing the skills of trade. This skill is noticed by the fearsome Alchemist, Lord Sylvian, who requests Gisa’s presence at his home to assist with some very specific tasks he has to undertake.
Finally we meet the sinister White Canons, a religious group who are mentoring young boys to follow the path of God’s wisdom. The boys live to a strict religious regime and learn their bible by rote and fear. A greater terror, however, is the possibility of a calling to assist with strange night-time ‘experiments’ run by senior members of the White Canons from which some boys do not return.
As you may expect from tale which concentrates on three different storylines, there comes a point when the plots start to converge. The deeper into the story that we progress the greater the influence of ‘magic’ or ‘mysticism’ on the plot. The eventual reveal of Sylvian’s master plan was unexpected and horrifying – great build up from Karen Maitland with a satisfying delivery that is sure to captivate readers.
From a personal perspective, however, I think I ruined The Raven’s Head for myself. Halfway through the book I lost a little focus, the White Canon’s were not holding my attention and Vincent was annoying me. I put the book to the side and did not return to it for a couple of weeks. Although I was able to pick up the story without problem (and I loved the build-up and delivery of the finale) I just felt that my enjoyment suffered during that two week reading break.
I do still believe that this is a good story and I have picked up a second Karen Maitland book since finishing The Raven’s Head as I like her writing. I just don’t think The Raven’s Head arrived at the right time for me – stick with it and you will get a story that is well worth reading.