*Recieved via Bookbridgr
Oswald de Lacy has spent his childhood in a monastery but at the age of seventeen he is sent back home to be Lord of Somerhill Manor after the plague wipes out his father and two brothers. Waiting for him at home are his mother who insists incessantly that he marry as quick as possible, his sister who insists incessantly that she herself marry a very unsuitable man and the death of a young woman named Alison Starvecrow who, before she was seen last, was known to have wanted to speak to Oswald. But the local priest is insisting it is the work of a dog-head: a man with the head of a beast doing the work of the devil. Oswald does not believe that story: but how can he convince the locals and find the true murderer?
This book had some promise. I found little to criticise in the writing: it was quite concise at times and there were only a few minor mistakes. It just was not very engaging which, coupled with the weak plot and paper-thin characters, made it quite the slog.
The characters were, for all intents and purposes, only there to be there. Every single character was unlikeable and seemed either there to simply antagonise the main character Oswald, or as filler. Oswald himself was the most developed character, but even then he was undeveloped and he certainly didn't develop in any way as the novel went along, nor did any other characters.
There was an attempt to create strong female characters (such as the sister) to counteract the misogynist stereotypes but they were feeble at best. I also found the way the characters (especially Oswald) just knew things (like how long a body has been dead for by examining certain things) just a little too fishy and handled in a blasé manner. I have no idea if they could tell how long a person has been dead for in the mediaeval period but the way it was dealt with here felt unrealistic and inaccurate. I'd be happy to be corrected on this matter.
The plot was intriguing at first: a girl is found dead after wanting to speak with Oswald but no-one else seems to think it is anything but the work of the devil. It was infuriating the way the simpletons of the town went along with everything the priest said; whilst this may be accurate I don't think it was handled well. The story just drags: I quite enjoyed the mystery though I figured it out very early on and the ending was quick to come, but at the very end it was whole-heartedly confusing.
It wasn't particularly written badly, nor was the plot all that bad. It was mainly the characters that let it down the most. Though what I will say is that the world-building was intense and very satisfying. There is a map provided but you might as well disregard that as the description and location within the book itself is fantastic. I felt very much like I was within mediaeval times, though atmosphere was lacking and it felt mostly like I was in the countryside.
It's a relatively good book but it just didn't grab me at all and I was very happen to finish it. I wish I knew more about mediaeval England to evaluate the historical accuracies because honestly that's one of the areas where I felt most sceptical.