Title: Sinful Folk
Author: Ned Hayes
Publisher: Campanile Books
Publication Date: January 22, 2014
Number of Pages: 331
How I got it: direct from author
Press Release Summary:
In December of the year 1377, five children burned to death in a suspicious house fire. The historical record shows that a small band of villagers traveled 200 miles across England in midwinter to demand justice for their children's deaths. Two hundred miles. In that time, an unimaginable distance for villagers who lived their entire lives only a few miles from their birthplace.
SINFUL FOLK is the story of this treacherous journey as seen by Mear, a former nun who has lived for a decade disguised as a mute and fearful man, raising her son quietly in this isolated village. When her son is killed, Mear wakes from her complacent life and undertakes a desperate journey.
The villagers travel across a harsh and unforgiving winter landscape. Propelled forward by a vision of justice, the villagers persevere in the face of bandit raids, ecclesiastical execution orders, starvation, kidnapping, and dissension in their own ranks.
The chief danger lies in their midst: Mear soon discovers that one of her fellow travelers lit the fire that burned the children for his own nefarious ends. Mear must not only uncover the murderer, but also stay alive long enough to reach London, where she can seek athe king's justice.
In the course of this pilgrimage, Mear finds old enemies, forgotten friends and hidden strengths. Mear's long-hidden intelligence and authority gradually come to the forefront as her gender, her articulate insight and her lineage are unveiled- first to her fellow villager and then to the world, as she enters the Star Chamber and , in the end, presents her case before the king's court. SINFUL FOLK begins in terror and heartache, and ends in triumph and redemption.
Medieval is usually not a big draw for me, but when author Ned Hayes contacted me with information about his newest release, I was intrigued. The story of a woman concealing herself as a man in a remote village is fascinating enough, then add in a child (and that child's death) and I believe you have got a story that really has some teeth. I must admit I was a little confused at the beginning of the novel with keeping track of the characters' names and I advise paying close attention to who's who when you begin reading this story. However, once a reader finds the rhythm, they will find it rolls smoothly and is difficult to put down.
The book is broken down into 47 chapters which makes for easy stopping points (but good luck with that.) I would reference this story as "The Road" meets "Game of Thrones" as it is a true journey story with multiple obstacles and the shock factor will have you gasping and flipping the page. The fact that this novel is an historical retelling of an actual event is fascinating and the author provides information about the original story at the end of the book.
The struggles and expectations of gender in this novel are obvious to a modern reader but so ingrained into expectations of the time. Births, deaths, lovers (both welcomed and rejected) play major roles and don't forget that any woman with independence or thoughts of her own was deemed a witch.
A book I originally approached with lukewarm interest grew to overtake my time when I put it down. I was constantly thinking about Mear and who was to blame for the boys' deaths when I wasn't reading the book. I think that is the true test of a great novel: How much a reader thinks about the story when they are NOT reading it.
I also thought of Mists of Avalon and The Red Tent while reading this story. Too often historical novels are lumped into being aristocratic love stories, SINFUL FOLK fills out the genre with a gritty, winter story of a journey across the English countryside.
** I received this book in exchange for an honest review **