1662. In Regensburg sister Lisbeth is gravely ill. At once Schongau's hangman Jakub Kuisl sets off to try cure her. It is a trap, he arrested on trumped up charges and destined for much suffering. Feisty daughter Magdalena, lover doctor's son Simon in tow, vows to save him. Whom to trust in this city so full of colourful characters and surprises? What hope for the three with villains so determined?
One senses throughout Oliver Potzsch is thoroughly enjoying himself, tongue firmly in cheek as cliffhangers abound and exploits grow ever more preposterous. Here are ghosts from the past, spies spying on spies, even a plot to change the course of history. Prominent is charismatic beggar Nathan the Wise, king of the catacombs, but exactly whose side is he on?
It is all great, if gory, fun - best enjoyed by readers who enter into the spirit of the thing. Especially relished is the sparring between formidable Magdalena and diminutive Simon - he once such a dandy, now increasingly a force to be reckoned with.
Almost everything is here in this third book of a stirring series - grandeur, squalor, superstition, unlikely alliances, dramatic (if not always plausible) escapes, so many around not quite what they seem.
As before, Potzsch follows up with a delightfully chatty tour round the places featured - Regensburg a city he loves and, he assures potential visitors, in a far better state than it was then.
A sequel already under way? That is good news indeed.
This review contains no spoilers.
Oliver Potzsch, the author of The Beggar King, is a descendant of one of Bavaria's leading dynasties of executioners and so has an interest in basing his series of historical novels on the hangman of Schongau, Jacob Kuisl and his daughter Magdalena. The book opens with a short prologue set in 1662 during the 30 years war which gives readers a glimpse of what rape and pillaging meant for a peaceful rural community. It is worth noting the names of those involved for they will feature 25 years later in the book we are about to read.
Jakob Kuisil leaves his home-town of Schonburg to travel to the regional centre of Regensburg where his sister is reportedly dying of cancer. Back in Schonburg, Jakob's daughter Magdalena has troubles of her own. Her boyfriend Simon is a partially-qualified medical doctor and between the two of them they have uncovered corruption in the home of a city dignitary who has poisoned one of his maids who he made pregnant. When Magdalena's home is attacked and burnt, the two lovers decide to follow Magdalena's father to Regensburg to try to make a new life for themselves, not knowing that they are going to get embroiled in a much bigger scandal behind the heavily guarded walls of the city.
Oliver Pptzsch is a very fine story-teller. The book moves along at a fast pace, swapping back and forth between Jakob and Magdalena's stories as they get more deeply involved in the crimes and conflicts of the city. When Jakob arrives in Regensburg he finds that his sister and her husband have been deeply implicated in a criminal conspiracy, but it quickly become apparent that this is a set-up and as Jakob begins to untangle the complex mysteries surrounding his sister he finds himself becoming a target for some very vicious people.
Magdalena and her boyfriend Simon have difficulties of their own having arrived in the city with no visible means of support. As they search for Jakob they also attract the attention of the conspirators and become fugitives living among the beggars in the stinking cellars and passages of derelict houses.
Apart from the gripping story contained in this book, for me the pleasure in reading was Potzsch's wonderful evocation of life in Regensburg. We learn so much about the various industries of the city, whether rafting on the Danube or brewing and baking within the city walls. When his scenes are set in inns I could almost sense the smells and noise as I read about the disgusting food being served to the customers.
We read much about Jakob's job as an executioner and doubtless this is based on Potzsch's impeccable research. The executioner was not only responsible for terminating the lives of assorted criminals, but was also responsible for the sanitation of the town. When Jakob falls into the hands of the Regensburg executioner later in the book he learns what it is like to be on the receiving end of a 16th century interrogation in which confessions were obtained by a wide variety of gruesome means (sensitive readers may wish to skim over these passages).
I don't usually enjoy historical novels but have to admit that this one gripped me from the start and kept me turning the pages and I hardly noticed its substantial length.
Jakob Kuisl, the Schongau hangman, is on his way to Regensburg to visit his gravely ill sister. As he tries to enter the city, he is detained by the guards and has to spend the night in a cell. In the morning, as he enters the bathhouse that his brother-in-law and sister keep, he finds their bodies with their throats slit and the guards ready to arrest him minutes after the grisly discovery; someone had obviously tipped them off. With everyone convinced of his guilt, he is thrown into the city dungeon where he is awaiting torture before inevitable execution. It falls to Kuisl's daughter Magdalena and her lover Simon, fleeing the Schongau inhabitants' narrow-mindedness, to prove his innocence. Little do they know that they are about to stumble on a clever revenge plot centring on Magdalena's father, one that might have dangerous consequences for the entire German Empire.
This is already the third instalment in The Hangman's Daughter series but the first I read. It feels impeccably researched and the long chapters build up the atmosphere of Regensburg in the middle of the 17th century very well, yet, by the same token, they also reveal the novel's notable lengths; the book definitely feels 100 pages too long. There is a lot of fleeing from one point of refuge to another through a warren of back streets and alleyways and one too many rescues from certain death at the very last moment in my opinion, stretching credibility. The characters are mostly well drawn, even if some are teetering precariously close to cliché: the fat brewmaster monk and the fop and ladies' man Italian, for example. There's also the good old, if well-worn, plot device of "I'll make a few enquiries and will tell you the answer in the morning", only to find that the character has been conveniently killed off by that time, and I felt the lack of credible alternative villains rather keenly. There are annoying little plot inconsistencies that niggle in the background, and the final solution feels historically neat, yet too elaborate for the humble hangman to be involved in. The prologue, while important for setting the scene, also gives away the mystery of the hangman's enemies too easily, and I had guessed the reason for their planning revenge on Jakob Kuisl very early, thereby depriving me of the tension that revolved around their identities. Interesting from a historical perspective (the novel is set barely fifteen years after the Thirty Years' War) and diverting, yet a bit too formulaic for my taste: a generous four stars.
on 4 September 2013
Having read and enjoyed the 1st 2 books by the author i was looking forward to this 3rd book. Again the characters we know and love from the 1st 2 books are here and while this book provides a decent enough read, i felt like i was re reading the Dark Monk in parts.
The plot itself is quite interesting and i did enjoy the little twists as one of the characters meets an old foe but i also felt that some elements were lifted straight from Dark Monk, changed round a little and placed into this work.
Having said that, it must be quite difficult to keep on inventing new scenarios whilst developing a series involving the same lead players who are stuck in one time and region so i applaud the author for at least keeping it interesting. If you have not read the other books then this would probably be as good as the previous 2.
The Hangman's Daughter series is part of the Amazon Crossing programme which aims to identify worthy foreign language literature for translation into English. I have now read all three of the Hangman's Daughter series which have been published to date and they have all been excellent. As I think is widely known, although these adventures are fictional, Jakob Kuisl, the hangman was an ancestor of the author which adds extra interest.
The first book was very much about the hangman himself, whilst his daughter, Magdalena really only had a walk on part. The second in the series, The Dark Monk was, however, all about Magda and her boyfriend, Simon, son of the local doctor. This time round all are very involved in this action packed and quite complex tale.
The hangman receives a letter from Regensburg, telling him that his sister is dangerously ill. He quickly sets off for that city with his medicines, but it proves to be a plot to ensnare him from someone from his past who clearly has a grudge against him. Jakob ends up on the receiving end of some of the treatment he is used to meting out to others from the Regensburg executioner and torturer who proves to have a lot in common with him. Meanwhile Magdalena and Simon flee their home town and set off to Regensburg to start a new life as they cannot marry due to the lowly status of members of an executioner's family. They quickly become embroiled in Jakob's problems and an apparent far reaching conspiracy although they do receive help from unlikely quarters.
This is quite an action packed book, particularly towards the climax as all three of the main characters have their own perils to deal with. This is a story which will appeal to most readers even if historical novels are not their usual reading matter. Although Jakob is tortured, potential readers should not be put off by this even if they are of a squeamish disposition as it is not treated in an overly graphic fashion so as to offend. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and look forward to the next in the series, The Poisoned Pilgrim. As a postscript the author gives us a detailed description of Regensburg which has definitely made me want to visit this very interesting and historical Bavarian town.
The most preposterous book I've read. Packed full of darkly comical moments alongside completely off-the-wall adventures and I enjoyed every single word. Don't read this book and expect it to be anything other than entertaining. It's not. You have to suspend an awful lot of belief to get through it and; there's a lot to get through at 530 pages. The author takes us back to 1662 and features a hangman/torturer, Jacob Kuisl, who is framed for the murder of his sister. Jacob is sent into the prison in which he has himself inflicted so much pain. It's up to his daughter, Magdalena, and her partner, Simon, to clear his name and save the hangman from a fate worse than death!. The plot runs away with itself and the author is so obviously enjoying himself you feel the humour coming at you through the pages. It's quite breathless. There's gore and 'nastiness' in places, this is the story of a 17th century hangman/torturer after all, you need to be ready for the darker elements. There's so much going on and yet the story romps along really well and rarely ever stumbles but; the plot's so complex there are moments when it's difficult to believe what's happening. Features ghosts, spies, plotting, cliffhangers, beggars, catacombs, superstition, to name but a few, and set in and around different locations in Bavaria which are beautifully described. You do need to enter into the fun when you read the Beggar King and not attempt to take it too seriously however; the depth and richness of the story telling is quite remarkable. Brilliant gory, dark fun and I loved it.
This is the third (and in my opinion the best) instalment of Oliver Potzsch's Hangman's Daughter tales, and at last the daughter herself (Magdalena) comes out of her father's shadow and takes a very central role.
The story begins with Jakob Kuisl, Hangman of the town of Schongau, receiving a letter to say that his beloved sister Lisbeth is ill, so he decides to make the journey to her home in Regensburg to look after her. At the same time his daughter Magdalena and her boyfriend, doctor's son and budding medic Simon Fronwieser, are sick of the hostility and violence shown to them by the ignorant townspeople, and they decide to follow her father to Regensburg to make a new life for themselves. Once in the imperial city all the characters become embroiled in a web of corruption and murder, as well as a plot to exact revenge on Kuisl for actions he took as a soldier in the Thirty Years' War, and Magdalena and Simon turn for help to a group of outcasts and beggars (and their 'King'). The action is fast-paced and exciting and, in keeping with the period, dark and very dirty - excrement and other foul substances seem to play a very large part in proceedings!
Oliver Potzsch (a descendent of a family of executioners) has carried out meticulous research on the city of Regensburg and there's a guide to the city at the end of the book in which he references many landmarks which feature in the novel.
Can this book be read as a stand-alone story? Yes it certainly can, but as always I think the reader would benefit from watching these characters develop over the preceding instalments. At the end there's a snippet of Book 4 (entitled The Warlock in the book but, confusingly, The Poisoned Pilgrim on Amazon - due for UK release 16.07.13); I don't usually bother with these taster chapters but my appetite was really whetted at the end of The Beggar King and I must say book 4 does look really promising and I fully intend to carry on with this series.
The setting for this example of what is usually characterised as 'popular' historical fiction is 17th-century Europe, a few years after the 30 years War, in the Bavarian city of Regensburg. It is similar post-Renaissance pre-Industrial Revolution territory to that often explored by many fantasy writers and game developers,(Game of Thrones comes to mind, or perhaps CJ Parker and Joe Abercromby) and it would appeal to much the same audience. It explores some fairly dark themes of violence, brutality and torture without straying into the exploitative, for which the author should be congratulated
The author succeeds in weaving in several familiar plot themes from this period, such as beggars and thieves guilds, the class structures of life in an urban setting, superstitious attitudes to medicine, and the effects of war on the civilian population. The two main characters, hangman's daughter Magdalena and her sweetheart Simon, are appealing to modern sensibilities, and the plot moves along swiftly. Serious historical scholars would doubtless take issue with the portrayal of some aspects of life in that period, and the dialogue can be very anachronistic at times, as if deliberately oriented towards a modern readers, many of whom are unlikely to notice or care. This is not being marketed as another Hilary Mantell,in all fairness
In purely literary terms, the writing can be a bit clumsy at times, and it is impossible to tell if that is the fault of the original author or the translator, and how much that matters is debatable - once again, many readers are not going to care one bit. This is the third in a series, so if the previous ones appealed, this one should do too.
on 26 January 2013
This is the third in the Hangman's daughter tales and while it is helpful to have read the others it isn't really necessary and the book would stand by itself. The stories centre around Jakob the hangman, his daughter Magdelena and her lover Simon who is a doctor and therefore his relationship with Magdelena is not considered respectable. This story starts with Jakob going to visit his sister who lives in the city of Regensberg, as he believes her to be ill. He arrives to find that she and her husband have been murdered and he is arrested and tortured to confess to the murder. It is obviously a set up but who is behind it? Magdelena and Simon also arrive in Regensberg to escape the treatment they have been receiving from their own townsfolk. They are aware that at times they are followed and they also become friends with the beggars and the freemen. Magdelena also becomes friends with a Venetian gentleman, but Simon is extremely jealous. However all is not what is seems and there are unexpected twists and turns in the story. Eventually we do find out who is behind it all. The descriptions of the city and the places are really good, so that you have an excellent flavour of what life was like then. The plot of the story keeps you interested and wanting to read on. If you have enjoyed any of the other tales in this series then you will not be dissappointed by this one,it is written in a similar way to the previous tales. If you haven't read any of these tales and enjoy historical fiction with a murder mystery element to it then you shouls enjoy this.
This is the third outing for Oliver
Potzsch's hangman Jakob Kuisl and thankfully this book does not disgrace its forbears.
The plot is complex, dark and tragic. Equally compelling and shocking. I have no desire to expose the ins and outs if the book here, it would take too long. Suffice to say that I raced to the end of the chapters eager to read what happened next.
As a stand alone book 'The Beggar King' can be read without reading the two previous outings for Kuisl but the story is more easily understood by having read the first two.
The central character of Kuisl is a strangely sympathetic one. Yes he kills people, but that is his job. He dies so swiftly and as humanely as possible. Much to the disgust of the leading citizens of Schongau Kuisl is a skilled healer who treats illness more effectively than the local medicus. When called on to fulfil his He derived no pleasure from his gruesome task, however his past catches up to him in this story. He finds himself in the torture chamber, this time not in charge.
The author weaves a complex spell which draws the reader in, exposing the dark side of human nature. But there are shining glimpses of kindness and decency from surprising quarters.
Give this book a go, you will not be disappointed. You may even find yourself diving into the earlier adventures of Jakob Kuisl, the Hangman of Schongau