Thirteenth-century Bohemia: the kingdom is cursed by infighting, and a young girl with strange gifts struggles to heal and win the heart of a king, safeguard the kingdom, and fight some nasty demons in Carpenter’s debut novel.
Mouse has grown up in an abbey but finds herself ostracized from the rites of the Church. Trained in healing and possessing preternatural senses about the world and about human souls, she saves King Ottakar’s life following an assassination attempt. He's taken with her beauty and her skill and insists she travel back to his court as his ward. Once there, she must not only navigate the dangerous political landscape, but also begin to come to terms with her own mysterious abilities, which earn her muttered accusations of witchcraft. Father Lucas, one of the men who raised Mouse and who calls her his “angel,” returns to help her banish some ghosts who have been terrorizing her and the kingdom, and then he and Mouse travel to Houska, an abandoned fort that has been constructed over the gate to Hell. Carpenter’s novel is an odd hybrid: part history, part horror, part love story, part Christian mythology, and this at first keeps it fresh and surprising. But all these parts fail to become a comprehensive whole, and the fragments splinter the narrative, rendering it uneven and each part of the story frustratingly incomplete. There will be some comparisons to Kostova’s The Historian, and like that novel, this one does a good job of interweaving history with mythology and the supernatural, offering a new take on somewhat familiar themes. Unlike that novel, however, this one clocks in at an easily readable length; it should have been longer in order to fully develop the interesting seeds from which it springs.
Brings the Dark Ages to strange and bewitching life for a time but proves too ambitious for its own good.