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The Owl Killers    by Karen Maitland order for
Owl Killers
by Karen Maitland
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Bantam, 2010 (2009)
Hardcover, Softcover, e-Book

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* * *   Reviewed by Bob Walch

It is 1321 and the small English village of Ulewie has become the site of a deadly struggle between a newly formed beguinage and a secret society called the Owl Masters. Always masked, the Owl Masters exert their rule in secrecy, through violence, intimidation and mysterious rites that predate the arrival of Catholicism in Great Britain.

The flip side of the coin, the beguinage, is a newly formed community that consists of only women. Constituting a middle ground between marriage and the religious life for women craving independence, the beguinage offers a safe harbor of service and faith in defiance of the Church. Its members take no vows of celibacy or poverty. They make a living by working in the outside world and they bypass local guilds in assisting the poor and setting up infirmaries and hospitals.

Built by women who have traveled from Flanders, the beguinage in Ulewie offers a safe haven between the Church and the Owl Masters. The two-fold question, though, is will the women of the village trust the outsiders and accept the gifts they bring? And perhaps more to the point, will the two powerful male-dominated groups that control Ulewie allow the women a safe haven?

Karen Maitland has assembled a beguiling cast of characters that include the parish priest trying to cope with his own personal demons, a pregnant teenager terrified of the child she is about to bear, a mystic perhaps on the verge of sainthood, and a mute, beautiful young woman thought to be a witch.

As with her previous novels, The White Room and Company of Liars, Karen Maitland has not only painstakingly researched her novel's time period but she's also assembled a memorable group of characters who keep the reader fully immersed in this medieval suspense story.

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