A Medieval Doom painting, an Anglo-Saxon saint, mythical creatures, a magpie, an historian, dead babies, the groaning sickness and a big old house. A fantastic gothic tale.
The story is set in Edwardian England in the fens of Suffolk. An intelligent, lonely girl does two things she shouldn't - read her father's journal and go out to the fens on her own. She discovers things that are fixed in folklore, hearsay and superstition and questions the concepts of reality, God and madness. As well as that, her father is not a very nice man at all.
Her father is an historian and is afraid of the power of a Doom painting he finds. What drives this fear and what he can do about it are the forces of the story.
There are a lot of positives in this book, one being the original idea and excellent writing. The attitudes of the Edwardians is aptly captured, particularly with regard to the general views about social class and women, the beliefs and religion. But my personal favourite is the research by the historian father into the life of Saint Guthlaf, who is obviously based on Saint Guthlac of Crowland, one of the more colourful Anglo-Saxon saints. Paver's knowledge and enthusiasm for history, research and folklore shines through this wonderful book.
There is a great sense of place as the fens are portrayed in all of their murky mystery without long descriptive passages. And viewing the world through the eyes of a child, particularly the 'disease' of childbirth, is poignantly captured. Great book, beautifully written and highly recommended.
Published by Head of Zeus on 4 April 2019.
Advanced review copy supplied by the publisher.