A tragic loss. A desperate journey. A mother seeks the truth.
In December of 1377, five children were burned to death in a house fire. Villagers traveled hundreds of miles across England to demand justice for their children’s deaths.
Sinful Folk is the story of this terrible mid-winter journey as seen by Mear, a former nun who has lived for a decade disguised as a mute man, raising her son quietly in this isolated village. For years, she has concealed herself and all her history. But on this journey, she will find the strength to redeem the promise of her past. Mear begins her journey in terror and heartache, and ends in triumph and transcendence.
The remarkable new novel by Ned Hayes, illustrated by New York Times bestselling author/illustrator Nikki McClure, Sinful Folk illuminates the medieval era with profound insight and compassion.
This is the story of a woman named Miriam, who has been living as a mute man, raising her child in a remote village after fleeing a monastery and a mysterious pursuant. We meet Mear (as she's being called by her fellow villagers) as an awful fire consumes the village weaver's home with five of the village's young boys inside, one of them Mear's own beloved son, Christian. The fire could have been the result of an accident--after all, these things happen. But the village soon discovers that someone had tied the door shut from the outside, and that the death of the next generation of young men was no accident at all. Suspicions and accusations immediately start flying, and many point their fingers toward the few Jews who still live in England, even though none of them live in their village. A handful of men decide they must seek justice, and so they set out with the bodies of their sons on an arduous journey to present their case to the king and demand satisfaction from a faceless villain.
Snuggle up by the fire when you read this book because you're going to get cold just reading about the bleak winter landscape our group has to travel in. What struck me most about this book was the stark depiction of the lives of peasants during this time period and the cruelty that such hard living brought forth in people. Our group not only faces suspicion and abuse from those they meet along the road, but also from within their own ranks as tensions flare amid freezing, starving conditions and the ravages of grief and anger. I enjoyed following Miriam on her journey, which was both physically taxing and emotionally freeing. Her pain at losing Christian, her sole reason for living these past ten years, was a palpable thing, as was her determination to finally seek out his father, and failing that, to carry our her mother's dying request. The mystery of who killed the boys was slowly teased out along with the story of how Miriam became Mear in the first place. The story reached its boiling point when the group finally made it to London, and just when it seemed all was for naught and Miriam was going to spend her final hours in misery and degradation, she managed to find the strength to wage one last fight in an effort to save herself and her fellow travelers and ultimately found the redemption she so desperately needed.
This is a dense read, and by that I mean that it's highly detailed while being very subtle at revealing clues in the mystery, so you have to pay close attention and it takes a little longer to read. This sometimes made me feel like the story was slow-going when really the content was quite action-packed. I'd pretty much figured out who the villain was before the big reveal, but really, no one was without some form of guilt, and that made the story all the more intriguing. I can't say that it's the type of book I'd probably read again--at times it's pretty intense and some parts can be difficult to read. It is unapologetically gritty and harsh, filled with pain and suffering, but Miriam--and the reader--are rewarded in the end. And it is a creative and plausible take on the real-life mystery surrounding the final will and resting place of Edward the Black Prince. Overall, this is a very well-written small press title that is worth a read for anyone who likes English historical fiction, and particularly those who would like to take a break from the nobility and spend some time in the point of view of the serfs and working class.
My Rating: 4 Stars out of 5
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