- The owl killers / Karen Maitland.
- Maitland, Karen
- New York, New York : Delacorte Press, 2009.
- 9780440244431 — Paperback; $15.00
- 9780141031897 — Paperback
- Historical fiction
An all-female community of beguines battles the superstitions of medieval villagers and the legendary, demonic Owlman.
In 14th Century England, a group of beguines, women forming a self-sustaining community, comes under the suspicion of the villagers, the village priest, and a local vigilante group known as the Owl Masters. While the women attempt to live by their faith and principles and hope to reach out with good works, the priest battles his own inner demons and outside pressures, and the villagers teeter between Christianity and the old pagan ways. Rumors begin to spread that the Owl Masters’ fiery rituals have awakened an ancient demon known as the Owlman. Fear spreads through the village. As a series of natural disasters wreak havoc, fingers begin to point at the beguinage as the source of trouble. The women must summon all their strength and faith to stand against the coming storm.
This story is told from multiple perspectives including several of the beguines, the priest, and two locals–a young noblewoman sent to the beguinage by her father and a young peasant girl as the voice of the village. This technique is useful to understanding a very complex story and the various beliefs about the events. The characters are complex and flawed, none completely evil, but none are saints either. Still, the women show a lot of strength and courage, and display an early feminism struggling against the prevailing culture. The novel is very atmospheric, with rich details bringing the medieval setting to life–the role of the church, the place of women, the lack of hygiene and the superstitions with which the mysterious forces of nature are explained. It is a dark and somewhat scary story, sure to give a thrill to readers who like stories of the supernatural.
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Interview with the Bookseller
Fans of medieval historical fiction will love the details and the history of a little known culture–that of the beguines. Some fans of paranormal, those who like myths and demons, will also like this story.
The Taming of the Queen, by Philippa Gregory. These novels share the genre historical fiction and both are set in medieval England. They also share a theme of religious conflict and have strong female protagonists.
The Witch’s Trinity, by Erika Mailman. Though set in Germany rather than England, this novel shares with The Owl Killers a priest and village looking for someone to blame for natural disaster. A woman who is different is accused of witchcraft. Both books also have supernatural aspects.
The Red Velvet Turnshoe, by Cassandra Clark. Both novels are historical fiction set in medieval Europe, one in England and one on the continent. Both feature strong female protagonists, pursuit of relics, and a suspenseful plot.
Shirley Jackson Award nominee
A booktalk could describe Agatha’s experience in the forest including what she saw of the Owl Masters (pp. 20-21) and the assault on her (p. 31).
Why were the women of the beguinage, who were Christians and did charitable work, so suspicious to the villagers and the priest?
Was Servant Martha a good leader? Why or why not?
Why did Servant Martha believe that Beatrice would not be a good Martha?
Was the priest a good man? Explain your answer.
Discuss the mingling of paganism and Christian faith in this book. Was this common for the time? What practices or evidence still exist of this mingling?
Why I chose this book
This was a book group pick. I might pick it up for its historical setting or for the curiosity about beguines.
Owls, Martha, Dark Ages