REVIEW: SINFUL FOLK BY NED HAYES

SINFUL FOLK

Author: Ned Hayes
Campanile Books eBook RRP $9.99
Review: Monique Mulligan

In the end, I listen to my fear. It keeps me awake, resounding through the frantic beating in my breast. It is there in the dry terror in my throat, in the pricking of the rats’ nervous feet in the darkness. Christian has not come home all the night long. I know, for I have lain in this darkness for hours now with my eyes stretched wide, yearning for my son’s return. On this night, I tell myself that the sound I hear is frost cracking, river ice breaking. I lie to my own heart, as one lies to a frightened child, one who cannot be saved. All the while, I know it is a fire. And I know how near it is. – Sinful Folk, Ned Hayes

When author Ned Hayes approached me to review Sinful Folk, my first thought was no, because my review shelf was overloaded. However, his pitch letter was so good that I decided to read the sample chapter and next thing, I found myself agreeing to read the book. I’m glad I did. Based on real historical events from 1377, the novel was an intriguing and well-written read that kept me engrossed from start to finish.

It’s December 1377 and villagers in Duns, north-east England, have just found out that five young boys have died in a fire. Shock and despair turn to anger as rumours fly about what happened and the villagers demand justice. Gathering their dead sons in a wagon, the boys’ fathers prepare to make a desperate mid-winter journey across England to the King’s throne. Among them is Mear (Miriam), a woman disguised as a mute man and the mother of Christian, one of the dead boys. A former nun, Mears has been hiding in Duns since Christian was born, waiting for the time to claim her son’s birthright.

Over the course of the journey, Mear must protect her own secrets while trying to stay alive in harsh and dangerous conditions, including bandits, starving peasants, legalistic monks and the growing mistrust and unease among the small band of travellers. Soon it becomes clear that one of the travellers is responsible for the boys’ deaths and as Mear’s secrets come out she is forced dig deep for the strength to confront the murderer. But has she left it too late? Standing trial in the Tower, will she be believed? And will her son’s birthright finally be acknowledged?

Told through Mear’s eyes, Sinful Folk  is an atmospheric historical novel that highlights an era rooted in despair, poverty, superstition and fear. Yet, despite the bleak outlook, Mear’s courage and strength instils the reader with hope that wrongs will be righted. The writing is vivid and poetic, the storyline fascinating and the tension real. For those who like historical fiction, I’d recommend this one … and I’m glad Hayes finally made real an idea he had more than ten years ago.

Note: The book contains pictures by New York Times best-selling illustrator Nikki McClure – on an e-reader they tend to get lost, but I think they’d add to the atmosphere in print copies.

Available from Amazon. My Kindle version was courtesy of the author and Campanile Books.

Bookish treat: It’s a bit warm for mulled wine in Australia, but I do think a glass would go down well while reading this book.