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Thursday, 25 February 2016

‘The Butcher Bird’ by S.D. Sykes

Published by Hodder & Stoughton,
22 October 2015.
ISBN: 978 1 444 78581 4

Oswald de Lacy was never expected to be the Lord of Somershill; as the third son, he had been intended to make his career in a monastic setting. The Black Death killed Oswald's father and two elder brothers and left him as lord of the manor, but there is a secret about Oswald's birth that haunts him and which now only a few people know. Oswald struggles to prove his worthiness to himself and to his mother and ruthless sister, Clemence.

The Black Death has left few people fit to work on the land and, because of this, the remaining workers feel that they should be paid more for the extra work, especially as many of them are struggling to grow enough crops to feed themselves. However, the King has decreed that no worker should be paid more than they were paid before the workforce was decimated. Oswald finds himself in an impossible position, aware that he is losing his workers and that those who do not leave his manor are the weak who will be to frail to work and, in time, starve to death, but also unable to break the King's Law and give his people the money that they need. Then a large and ugly bird is sighted in the skies, killing young lambs, and a new-born baby is found impaled on a thorn bush. Rumours abound about a Butcher Bird that is preying on the weak and defenceless and the villagers turn on one of their number, a man driven insane by the loss of his family to the Black Death. Oswald has already been sickened by an earlier act of superstition-fuelled murder committed by the villagers and he is determined to discover the truth, protect the innocent, including his own new-born nephew, and to prove his worthiness to be Lord of Somershill. His quest takes him from rural Kent to medieval London and places him in mortal  danger before he discovers the truth.

The Butcher Bird is the second novel featuring Oswald de Lacy and follows very directly from the first book, Plague Land. Indeed it reveals so much of the action of Plague Land that readers would be well advised to read the books in the correct order. It paints a dark picture of the cruel realities of medieval life and describes a time when, even for the wealthy, life was harsh. An interesting book, recommended for those who enjoy stronger and darker historical novels.
Reviewer: Carol Westron

S D Sykes  has lived in Somerset, London, Manchester and now in the Weald of Kent. She says that she has always been a storyteller, even as a child - writing her first book at the age of six and insisting it be typed up and bound. After a career writing copy for brochures, direct mail, and company newsletters, she started Plague Land after attending the course in novel writing at literary agents Curtis Brown. Her influences are gothic literature, nature, history and my large and mildly eccentric family.

Carol Westron is a successful short story writer and a Creative Writing teacher.  She is the moderator for the cosy/historical crime panel, The Deadly Dames.  Her crime novels are set both in contemporary and Victorian times.  The Terminal Velocity of Cats is the first in her Scene of Crimes novels, was published July 2013. Her second book About the Children was published in May 2014.

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