A Gathering of Ghosts

Written by Karen Maitland
Review by Ann Northfield

This novel is set in 1316 near Dartmoor and uses three narrators. One is the Prioress Johanne of the Sisters of the Knights of St John, who is struggling to keep her priory together and functioning in the face of many issues, including a mysterious blind boy whom many believe to be the devil incarnate, famine and suffering in the countryside, strange plagues of frogs and flies and a visiting Hospitaller monk who is deeply suspicious of everything she does and says. A second narrator is Morwen, daughter of the local witch, who is in touch with the energy of the earth and the dark forces which predate Christianity. The well itself could in fact be more pagan rather than Christian and is where strange events are often manifested. Sorrel is the third narrator; a mistreated waif with a withered arm who is called to Morwen by forces beyond her ken. She is connected to the tinners who struggle for survival and are exploited by an unpleasant overseer named Gleedy.

The three strands coalesce in mysterious and at times supernatural ways. The nuns watch over the sacred well of St Brigid’s, taking money from the pilgrims who come to be healed by the holy water, but now everything seems to be falling apart. Based on impeccable historical research and supported by extensive notes at the end, this latest offering from Maitland is very much of the style and flavor of her previous novels. If you like medieval stories flavoured with darkness and the unexplained, there is no better.