Fiction Book Reviews

Historical Fantasy | The Plague Charmer | Karen Maitland

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I found it very easy to visualise the setting of The Plague Charmer having spent a family holiday in Porlock Weir in August (you can see a couple of photos on My Sunday Photo of Porlock Weir and at the end of my review)!  Despite The Plague Charmer being set in 1361 and now being a tourist attraction, you still have a sense of isolation and it’s very open to the elements.

I loved the history mixed with the fantasy and there are interesting subplots running through the story too.  The Plague Charmer is a ‘dark’ read and it was perfect leading up to Samhain 🙂  A great read for these dark and gloomier months.

Book cover for The Plague Charmer by Karen Maitland

Format: Kindle Edition

File Size: 2056 KB

Print Length: 576 pages

Publisher: Review (20 Oct. 2016)

Language: English


Riddle me this: I have a price, but it cannot be paid in gold or silver.

1361. Porlock Weir, Exmoor. Thirteen years after the Great Pestilence, plague strikes England for the second time. Sara, a packhorse man’s wife, remembers the horror all too well and fears for safety of her children.
Only a dark-haired stranger offers help, but at a price that no one will pay.

Fear gives way to hysteria in the village and, when the sickness spreads to her family, Sara finds herself locked away by neighbours she has trusted for years. And, as her husband – and then others – begin to die, the cost no longer seems so unthinkable.

The price that I ask, from one willing to pay… A human life.


The Plague Charmer may be a ‘dark’ read however Karen Maitland has created colourful and interesting characters.

There are several narrations – from Weir folk Sara and Matilda we have life from the perspective of fisherfolk who need the land to provide for them to live.  I loved the contradiction of how a village can pull itself apart but also work in collaboration; in Porlock Manor I was drawn in by the astute Lady Pavia, intriguing Christina, underhanded Sir Harry Gilmore and the stillroom maid; life with the charismatic Prophet in an underground cave was surreal and gave me all sorts of nightmares … ;  Will, the fake dwarf who is a newcomer to the Weir but with connections to Porlock Manor; and of course Janiveer, the woman saved from drowning.

There are hard hitting scenes – Sara and her family sealed into their cottage is so vivid.  It’s not just emotions that get pulled in but your senses too!  It was almost a relief for me when they get out, despite the changes and harshness that meet them.   Scenes underground with the Prophet made me feel like my skin was raw – exposed and vulnerable!  I have to say there was something compelling in Aldith leading the St Vitas Dance while Father Cuthbert was trying to perform Mass in the church – I could ‘feel’ that energy.  Abandoned village Kitnor was creepy and surreal … oh so much I could share!  It was so easy to be drawn into this world.  I didn’t see the threads that tie it all together, I was too busy enjoying being totally caught up living through this with these people (yes, it did feel real!).

Myth, legend, magic … I loved the fantasy as much as the historical.  The pace and switching to different narratives with different settings means the story didn’t feel like 576 pages – I was engaged throughout.  Definitely one to add if you like dystopian, historical or fantasy.

Connect with Karen Maitland


Porlock Weir
Porlock Weir (August 2016)
Porlock Weir
Looking out from Porlock Weir (August 2016)
Porlock Weir
Porlock Marsh
Porlock Weir at the base of the hill (August 2016)

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I've been blogging about my interests at Jera's Jamboree for 8+ years. My love of reading, crocheting, being out in nature and positive psychology are all things that help me unwind from my role as an Inclusion Lead in a primary school.

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