#BookReview The Bone Flower by Charles Lambert

The Bone FlowerAbout the Book

On a November evening in Victorian London, the moneyed but listless Edward Monteith stokes the fire at his local gentlemen’s club, listening to stories of supernatural experiences and theories of life after death. His curiosity leads him to a séance, where he falls under the spell of a beautiful flower seller. But Victorian society does not look kindly on love between a gentleman of means and a Romani girl, and when he faces being cut off by his family, Edward makes a decision with horrifying consequences.

Two years later Edward is married and anticipating the birth of his first child, in a beautiful house lined with orange blossom trees. But the wrongs of the past are not so easily forgotten, and the boundary between the living and the dead begins to thin…

Format: Paperback (240 pages)               Publisher: Gallic Books
Publication date: 22nd September 2022 Genre: Historical Fiction

Find The Bone Flower on Goodreads

Purchase links
Bookshop.org
Disclosure: If you buy a book via the above link, I may earn a commission from Bookshop.org, whose fees support independent bookshops

Hive | Amazon UK
Links provided for convenience only, not as part of an affiliate programme


My Review

The Bone Flower is a delightfully atmospheric and spooky story written in a style that deftly conjures up the period in which it is set. Edward’s passionate love affair with flower girl Settie ends in tragedy when he makes a misguided and disastrous decision. It’s one which will haunt him, not only because of his feelings of guilt and regret, but in another more literal sense, particularly after his marriage to Marisol and the birth of his son, Tommaso.

There are scenes in the book that could have come straight out of an M. R. James ghost story, and I mean that as a compliment. We witness the sort of small occurrences that might be laughed off in daylight but take on a whole different perspective when they occur at night: the distant sound of a child crying, a locked and shuttered window that repeatedly blows open or ‘a sort of shuffling noise’ heard outside a bedroom door as if a creature were feeling its way towards it. (I’m not sure if this was deliberate on the part of the author but there are a couple of names in the book that crop up in M. R. James stories.) There were also definite shades of Edgar Allan Poe; I’m thinking of his story ‘Ligeia’. And since my John Buchan radar is always on full alert, the opening scenes in the gentleman’s club in which the members swap stories, especially Rickman’s tale of his strange experiences in Africa, made me think of Buchan’s book, The Runagates Club.

A skilfully crafted Gothic mystery, The Bone Flower‘s combination of uncanny events, ghostly goings-on and story of forbidden love make it the perfect reading companion for autumn evenings.

My thanks to Isabelle at Gallic Books for my proof copy.

In three words: Chilling, atmospheric, mysterious

Try something similar: Printers’ Devil Court by Susan Hill


Charles LambertAbout the Author

Charles Lambert is the author of several novels, short stories, and the memoir With a Zero at its Heart, which was voted one of The Guardian readers’ Ten Best Books of the Year in 2014. His novel Prodigal was shortlisted for the Polari Prize for LGBTQ writing in 2019. Born in England, Charles Lambert has lived in central Italy since 1980. (Photo: Goodreads author page)

Connect with Charles
Website | Twitter

#BookReview The Plague Charmer by Karen Maitland

ThePlagueCharmerAbout the Book

1361. An unlucky thirteen years after the Black Death, plague returns to England.

When the sickness spreads from city to village, who stands to lose the most? And who will seize this moment for their own dark ends?

The dwarf who talks in riddles?
The mother who fears for her children?
The wild woman from the sea?
Or two lost boys, far away from home?

Pestilence is in the air. But something much darker lurks in the depths.

Format: Paperback (562 pages)  Publisher: Headline
Publication date: 6th April 2017 Genre: Historical Fiction

Find The Plague Charmer on Goodreads

Purchase links
Bookshop.org
Disclosure: If you buy a book via the above link, I may earn a commission from Bookshop.org, whose fees support independent bookshops

Hive | Amazon UK
Links provided for convenience only, not as part of an affiliate programme


My Review

When you pick up a historical novel by Karen Maitland you can confidently expect a great sense of atmosphere, fascinating historical detail, an intriguing array of characters and a touch of the supernatural or mystical. The Plague Charmer delivers on all those counts.

The Plague Charmer was written way before the pandemic but having lived through it we can now perhaps understand a little better the fear and uncertainty the inhabitants of Porlock Weir experience when ‘The Great Pestilence’ returns. As the plague wreaks havoc in the village, one of the characters remarks, ‘I don’t reckon we’ll ever see weddings and happiness again after this. Feels like the whole world is dying’. When you add to the return of the plague – which on this occasion is attacking primarily the young and fit, and more men than women – a prolonged drought, ferocious storms and a total eclipse it’s not surprising that the villagers become fearful and a sense of hysteria spreads. And you can understand how readily they might believe someone who says they know a way to save them and rid them of the plague – for a price. Or that they might believe those who proclaim the plague is God’s way of ridding the world of sinners sparing only the ‘chosen’ ones. The latter forms a rather chilling storyline but one, as the Historical Note explains, that is based on historical fact. I’m sure I’m not alone in thinking of the conspiracy theories that circulate on social media, preying on people’s fears and of how easy it is, in times of uncertainty, for individuals to manipulate others whether fuelled by religious zeal or a lust for power.

One of my favourite characters was Will, a dwarf or, to be more precise, a ‘fake’ dwarf. Who knew there was such a thing? The details of how that would have come about are actually quite shocking but his presence in the story is a neat way for the author to explore the theme of difference. He also has a wicked sense of humour – I loved the nickname ‘The Holy Hag’ he gives to one of the women in the village – and is adept at riddles. So is the author, it seems, as riddles or medieval proverbs appear at the start of each chapter. And, yes, the answers are at the back.

Like a lot of the author’s novels, The Plague Charmer is a fairly chunky book but it weaves together so many intriguing storylines and is populated with so many interesting characters that it never feels like a slog, at least it didn’t to me. Although I’ve read a couple of Karen Maitland’s historical novels I haven’t read them all and that’s certainly something I plan to correct.

In three words: Atmospheric, mysterious, immersive

Try something similar: The Last Hours by Minette Walters


K J Maitland Karen MaitlandAbout the Author

Karen Maitland travelled and worked in many parts of the United Kingdom before settling for several years in the beautiful medieval city of Lincoln, an inspiration for her writing. She is the author of over twenty books. She now leads a life of rural bliss in Devon. Karen also writes as K J Maitland. (Photo: Goodreads author page)

Connect with Karen
Website | Facebook