City of Crows

Written by Chris Womersley
Review by Mary Lawrence

It is 1673. Charlotte Picot is urged by her dying husband, Michel, to take their son and flee their fever-ridden village of Saint-Gilles for Lyon. A plague has descended from the north-east, believed to be carried by soldiers returning from war. Along the way, Charlotte is injured, and the young boy is abducted by a group of slavers destined for Paris—the City of Crows. Nursed back to health by Marie Rolland—the Forest Queen—Charlotte agrees to take the elderly woman’s black book, hoping its simple magic will assist her in finding her son.

After years of imprisonment, spending winters in a port prison and summers rowing in the galleys, Adam du Coeuret is surprised when his sentence is inexplicably remitted. He gives himself a new name—Adam Lesage—and is free to pursue hidden treasure in the city with a map given to him by a fellow prisoner.

Fate—or was it Charlotte’s magic?—brings the two together on the road to Paris. Charlotte believes she has summoned Lesage and the charlatan believes he has been ‘witched’ by her. They soon realize that they cannot succeed without one another. So begins their peculiar association.

Basing his novel on actual characters, Womersley weaves an intriguing tale, blending coincidence with the question of magical intervention. The motivations and decisions of Charlotte and Lesage can be explained either way. An insecure Charlotte becomes more confident and increasingly treacherous during the course of the story, while the self-serving and deceitful Lesage becomes a more compassionate person. By the end (which leaves room for lively debate), Charlotte is convinced of the power of her magic, and this reader is convinced of the magic of Womersley.