My rating: 4 of 5 stars
A terrible loss. A desperate journey.
A mother seeks the truth.
In December of the year 1377, five children were burned to death in a suspicious house fire. A small band of villagers traveled 200 miles across England in midwinter to demand justice for their children’s deaths.
Sinful Folk is the story of this treacherous journey as seen by Mear, a former nun who has lived for a decade disguised as a mute man, raising her son quietly in this isolated village.
For years, she has concealed herself and all her secrets. But in this journey, she will find the strength to claim the promise of her past and find a new future. Mear begins her journey in terror and heartache, and ends in triumph and redemption.
I jumped at the chance to review Sinful Folk. I was already following Ned Hayes on tumblr, drawn to his posts by the quality of his writing, so asking for a review copy was a no-brainer.
What I liked most about the book was the writing itself. The language seemed appropriate to the era, and there is a smooth, lilting flow to it that is easy and pleasing to read. Hayes also has the ability to coax spectacular, vivid images in the mind of a reader. I often wondered if he painted, or wrote poetry, because his writing is that precise and beautiful.
Some characters and scenes stood out: those where Miriam (main character) shares her story about Edward, her lover, are the most touching and believable of all. I note this, as there were moments in the story I felt to be melodramatic, or where certain characters (of the traveling band) bordered on caricature, so the scenes with Miriam and Edward were a welcome change.
I also appreciate that Hayes did his research. I believed the awful descriptions of that era, which often left me feeling angry at the conditions of life, the bigotry, and the overall ignorance of the times. The context certainly added to the horror that the band of travelers endured.
There were some elements I had difficulty with. For example, just when Miriam (Mear) is about to learn valuable information about what happened to the dead boys, someone would interrupt the conversation, or the voices dipped so low she could no longer hear. This happened a few too many times, which left me frustrated. Also, the first 100 pages or so felt long. Despite opening with a devastating fire, the narrative’s passive tone (which runs throughout) made it hard to get into and dulled the fire’s impact. Another issue was the characters themselves: for some of the men, their personalities weren’t always distinct enough for me to keep them straight, even towards the end of the book. Lastly, Mear is a mute and so much narrative takes place in her mind thinking, revisiting past events, and questioning current events. Though well-told, there were moments I wished those passages might have been shortened, or for something to happen to shake things up.
The pace of the last half of the book moves well. There is more action, danger lurks almost everywhere at once, and when the end came at last, I closed the book feeling emotional yet satisfied. Sinful Folk is a beautiful, mature story, and I encourage readers to pick it up.