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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Gallows Curse
It is 1210 and King John is on the throne - but this is no medieval bodice ripper, this is dark and dangerous historical fiction. Following on from the excellent "Company of Liars" and "The Owl Killers" is this latest outing by Karen Maitland. They are all stand alone books, but there are certain themes that run through them all. Superstition and magic abounds in a...
Published on 23 Mar 2011 by S Riaz

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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars I tried, I really did
I absolutely loved Maitland's previous two novels, and couldn't wait to get started on this one. I was expecting, I suppose, the same precarious dark ride through the early middle ages, with strong characters and a plot you could belong to. That doesn't happen here. I really really tried to like this book, particularly after some of the very positive reviews I read here...
Published on 20 Nov 2012 by A. Anderson


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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Gallows Curse, 23 Mar 2011
By 
S Riaz "S Riaz" (England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Gallows Curse (Kindle Edition)
It is 1210 and King John is on the throne - but this is no medieval bodice ripper, this is dark and dangerous historical fiction. Following on from the excellent "Company of Liars" and "The Owl Killers" is this latest outing by Karen Maitland. They are all stand alone books, but there are certain themes that run through them all. Superstition and magic abounds in a time when people believed truly in spells, relics and potions. People lived where they were born and most rarely travelled; so even when our heroine, Elena, visits the nearest town, it overwhelms her. Karen Maitland is a very descriptive writer, bringing the places, people and time to life. She also interweaves several storylines and characters. The book is not confusing, although you do have to concentrate and there is a list of characters to refer to at the beginning of the book until you have them all straight in your head!

We follow Elena, at first happy and in love, content with her lot, until she is plucked from the obscurity of manual labour to work in the manor house. Pope Innocent III has placed the kingdom of England under an interdict after King John refused to accept the pope's appointee Stephen Langton as Archbishop of Canterbury. The Church's sacraments have been withdrawn from the people - including the last rights. Tricked into unwittingly and unknowingly taking a dead mans sins, Elena begins to have bad dreams. The whole situation begins to spiral out of control, as Elena becomes no longer sure about whether her dreams are real and what she is capable of doing. As life at the manor begins to fall apart, so does Elena's life collapse with it. There are French spies, crusaders, a wonderful madame at a brothel, a eunuch, a wise woman, a mandrake and various other characters who make this book a really evocative, enjoyable and exciting read. All I can say is that I am looking forward to Karen Maitland's next book - an author who will be automatically pre-ordered. Intelligent and imaginative, brilliantly written and exciting, with characters you both believe in and care about - I guarantee you will enjoy this. If you have not read any of Karen Maitland's books then download this immediately and then enjoy the first two books. You have a great time awaiting you.
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39 of 44 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Karen Maitland's best yet, 8 Mar 2011
This review is from: The Gallows Curse (Kindle Edition)
Like Karen Maitland's other two books, Company of Liars and The Owl Killers (both great, by the way), this is a complex, labyrinthine mystery set in medieval England. The Interdict of 1208 forms the background for the plot, which concerns two main characters. The first is Elena, a 15-year-old serving girl who becomes a runaway, and later finds herself tricked into prostitution, after she's accused of killing her own baby. The second is Raffaelle, a tortured, revenge-hungry lord who is forced out of his manor by the brothers he holds responsible for his own agonies during the Crusades, as well as those of his late best friend and master Gerard. There are twists, turns and deaths galore as Raffaelle and Elena, both separately and together, attempt to outwit the treacherous Osborn and Hugh, making plenty of friends and enemies along the way.

Having enjoyed the author's previous novels so much, I expected a lot from The Gallows Curse, and it didn't disappoint. The characters are wonderful. Elena seems to be a bit of a cliché at first (innocent, beautiful young girl who has just about every tragedy possible thrown at her and survives despite the odds) but I found myself warming to her more and more as the story went on. As you see the horror and loneliness of life as a runaway villein and an unwilling whore through Elena's eyes, you end up rooting for her to make it through and get revenge on her tormentors. In Raffaelle, meanwhile, Maitland has created a fascinating, flawed, contradictory antihero and probably my favourite character of all the books I've read recently. He's simultaneously repulsive and entrancing, hateful and heroic. He does some awful and some great things; he pays dearly for his sins and for attempting to selflessly help others, but it's impossible to ignore the fact that many of his actions are motivated purely by his lust for Elena. Yet I ended up feeling more sympathy for the character than I would had he been unbelievably 'perfect'.

The glimpses into the characters' pasts and memories are fantastic, and really make the whole story feel fleshed out. The plot has everything - violent deaths, sexual deviance, witchcraft, spying/treason, prophetic dreams, a collection of caged exotic animals, shedloads of dark secrets and plenty of daring escapes, all against the backdrop of a 13th-century England depicted so vividly you can almost taste it. I love the way Maitland works elements of the supernatural into the plot without fanfare, so seamlessly you can easily believe magical beings and powerful witches really existed as part of everyday life back in medieval times (the story is part-narrated by a mandrake, and one of many subplots involves a pair of cunning women with an ancient grudge). What's more, the action-packed ending is a knockout. If there are flaws, they're to do with repetition in the language. The characters utter the same curses over and over again (God's blood, Satan's arse etc...), and the words 'stench' and 'stink' are repeated way too much - we get it, the Middle Ages weren't particularly fragrant. But overall, such minor flaws didn't do much to dent my enjoyment of the book overall.

While at first I missed certain elements from Maitland's other books - the variety of first-person narrators from The Owl Killers, the wide cast of eccentric characters from Company of Liars - I think this new tale may be her best yet. I was riveted throughout the book, and upon finishing it my instinct was to jump right back to the beginning and start all over again. I would recommend Maitland's novels to anyone interested in historical fiction; as well as being compelling and obviously very well-researched, they're also darkly funny, full of surprises and undeniably entertaining.
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars I tried, I really did, 20 Nov 2012
By 
A. Anderson (London, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Gallows Curse (Paperback)
I absolutely loved Maitland's previous two novels, and couldn't wait to get started on this one. I was expecting, I suppose, the same precarious dark ride through the early middle ages, with strong characters and a plot you could belong to. That doesn't happen here. I really really tried to like this book, particularly after some of the very positive reviews I read here (I had to keep coming back and reading them, to keep myself going). In the end, after page 270, I gave up. I just did not care enough about the characters or what was going to happen to them. Neither Elena or Raffe seemed particulary well-drawn, neither had much depth, and an awful lot of the plot development seemed quite random. It's not clear why Raffe wants to protect her, or at least why he seems to fall in love with her, why the brothers Osborn and Hugh seem so intent on hunting her (a villein) down, so much was simply unexplained. And at the end of the day, rather dull. I had no interest in what happened next - the only reason I read so far was in the hope that the cunning woman might do something. A vain hope. Not at all the ripping tale the newspaper quotes promised.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Book, 10 May 2013
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This review is from: The Gallows Curse (Kindle Edition)
Very atmospheric novel that really sort of put you in situ as you are reading it. There were a lot of medieval words used that were explained and this added interest. Could not put it down at first but felt it lost a bit of steam half way through and the plot got it bit unnecessarily complicated. However I will try more of her novels to see how they match up.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars unnecessarily complicated plot, 7 April 2013
By 
J. C. Day (U.K.) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Gallows Curse (Paperback)
The basic premise/plot line of the book falls apart less than half way through. If the mother and daughter witches have enough power to do some quite strong magic by themselves, then there is absolutely no need to use Elena, ruin her,her son's life and her husband's also, in order to get their revenge on someone not connected to her. That whole plot line seemed really pointless, and very sad. I enjoyed KM's first 2 books immensely but this one I struggled to finish; and the weird speeches of the mandrake really irritated.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A decent Medieval romp but nothing special, 15 Nov 2011
By 
JK "J. K." (UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Gallows Curse (Paperback)
Having recently finished reading The Gallows Curse I have to be honest and say that it's nowhere near as good and The Company of Owls or the Owl Killers and I think part of the problem is that while Karen Maitland hit upon a winning formula with the other two books she's used the same formula again in this one and The Gallows Curse feel a little cliched and tired. To be honest the historical research and atmosphere is good, you get a sense of how it would have been to live in the 13th century and be denied access to the church in a period when people really believed in heaven, hell, salvation, damnation and were terrified of Satan, witches and demons but; while the historical research is good I found the characters weak and the plot difficult to keep up with because of the constant references to herbs, roots and medicine which slow it down and prevent the whole thing from developing any tension. I also found it frustrating that the characters in The Gallows Curse, though based in the 13th century, act and think very much like we do now and that just wouldn't have been the case. If you like a good medieval romp with all of the usual elements; rough and ravishing Lords, pretty village maidens, witchcraft, ancient wicked Kings with a good spoonful of herbal medicine then you'll probably enjoy this book and find my review harsh, it's not meant to be, but we all like different literature and I'm just trying to be as honest as possible. Not the best but I'd thoroughly recommend Karen Maitland's previous books.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Narrated by a Mandrake...........a root that looks like a small man or woman., 4 July 2014
By 
Pyewacket "czarnowice" (UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Gallows Curse (Kindle Edition)
Once again a novel set during the Dark Ages. King John has banned priests from doing anything under penalty of death. So the dead go to their Maker unshriven, marriages are banned as are christenings. Anyone caught harbouring a Priest is sentenced to death.
Raffaele is the Steward to the Lady Anne of Gastmere and he has a terrible task which he asks a young servant girl called Elena to carry out. His friend Gerard has been killed in the Crusades and has died unshriven. Someone has to take his sins from him so Raffe a Castrati devices a plan to get Elena into the house as a 'Tiring Maid' to Lady Anne.He asks her if she is a virgin and she replies in the affirmative. She is then asked to eat some bread and salt and slices of mutton on a chest which holds the remains of Gerard. However, she is actually with child so she takes the sins of Gerard and Raffe into her. The consequences are dire...........she starts to have awful dreams about murdering her as yet unborn child. So she sends the baby when it is born to the local Wisewoman who gives her a Mandrake Root and tells her that one day she will have to do her a service. Elena takes the root never thinking for one moment where it will lead her. She is convicted of murder by the new owners of the Manor, Osborn of Roxham and his brother Hugh.

The story then follows her life as she is protected by Raffe and forced to work in a Brothel for an odious dwarf called Ma.

She is pursued relentlessly by Osborn and Hugh whilst Raffe tries to keep her safe. Gytha the Wisewoman watches her all the time and evntually asks for Elena to carry out the small service she had promised to do.

An absolutely brilliant book and I particulary liked the chapters written by the Mandrake.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent, 22 Mar 2014
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A good book to read one that I would highly recommend to my friends I really enjoyed it. Thank you
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Murder and medicine in the MIddle Ages, 19 Oct 2012
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This review is from: The Gallows Curse (Kindle Edition)
A fascinating novel about spies, treachery, murder and nightmares set in East Anglia in the Middle Ages. Elena, a serving girl, is tricked into saving the soul of her master by his best friend who, not realising she's pregnant, believes her innocence will protect her. Instead, she starts to have nightmares which set a change of tragic events in action - and lead to murder and betrayal.

Each chapter is introduced with extracts from 'The Mandrakes Herbal' - think of an evil version of Culpepper's 'The Complete Herbal' - which shows how plants, insects and animals were used as remedies in the Middle Ages.

It's a fascinating, informative and entertaining historical novel with great characters and intriguing plot lines. I bought the Kindle version. Highly recommended.
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not as imaginative as her previous books., 30 Mar 2011
By 
Philip Walker (London - UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Gallows Curse (Kindle Edition)
Unlike Maitland's amazing previous books, The Owl Killers and A Company of Liars, The Gallows Curse is a little predictable. The author has a great talent in creating colourful characters who you love, or hate. I found it difficult to relate to any of the main people in this book, and the characters are not as well developed, it seemed a little lazy, and reminiscent of previous books, rather than unique and imaginative.

Having said that, this is a good story. Try not to compare it, like I have, with previous books by the author because you will be left unfulfilled. I think I was just expecting a bit more, but it is by no means a bad book.

On a positive note, Maitland again paints a convincing and believable picture of the era, you can see the scene very easily and it is full of activity and colour. You can really imagine yourself there, smelling the smells, sensing the atmosphere and environment.

Fingers crossed the next one is back on form.
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The Gallows Curse
The Gallows Curse by Karen Maitland (Paperback - 15 Mar 2012)
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