Dark, Fiction, Historical, Loved-it, Magical realism, NetGalley

The Plague Charmer by Karen Maitland Dark, Atmospheric And Very Medieval

If you like reading well researched, incredibly atmospheric, not sugar-coated historical novels about the middle ages, The Plague Charmer is just for you. My review of this wonderful book has been long overdue, so let’s start.

Life is pretty tough in the middle ages – work is hard, food is scarce, but to make it all the tougher, hearsay of persilence is roaming the land. It’s been quite a while since the last outbreak, but the safety never lasts long. One day a ship is washed up on the shore, and with it – two dead children, and a living witch. Or at least, she seems one. God only knows what she’s looking for really, but she promises deliverance from the plague, if she gets it back. But not only that. What she asks for everyone else’s lives is one life. And nobody’s willing to give it…

So the pestilence takes its course, the witch searches for her bounty, and the villagers try to survive. The story follows the witch, a cunning dwarf and a strong female character. In the end we will find out what their lives amount to…

5 Reasons To Read The Plague Charmer

The Atmosphere

Although it’s hard to place yourself into the world of the story at first, simply because it’s so dark, but still it pulls you in and overwhelms you. At times, it seemed I breathed the smell of the wet seaweed, felt the spray of the waves, sensed the cold gusts of wind. It’s so incredibly atmospheric! I believe I have yet to read a novel about the middle ages that has pulled me in so much and really put me in a living painting of the place. Needless to say, it’s not quite how I imagined the middle ages before, and it makes me very glad – because now they seem anything but boring!

All The Riddles!

(Yup, that is one of the riddles explained!)

The story makes heavy use of riddles – some of which you won’t be able to place or figure out at all because they’ve hopelessly aged. Tied to the way of living of back in the day, they make absolutely no sense today, but they’re so interesting to find out more about! As you read, some of them will be answered, some won’t, but at the end of the book you will find a glossary with all the riddles and their explanations. That was purely magical for me. I feel like I learned so much!

The Language

If there’s a glossary for the riddles, of course there’s a dictionary as well. The book really does use old sayings and language much to its benefit. I believe, that’s what contributes to the atmosphere so much, and I truly loved it. Even though I managed to guess at half the words as I was reading, I still read the glossary with pleasure and felt like I learned a lot.

Historical And Well Researched

Of course, I am by no means a specialist, seeing as how I seem to know nothing of the middle ages – but The Plague Charmer seemed well researched. Especially due to all of those explanations, legends and glossaries at the end of the book! I bow my head to the author, for teaching me this much about the time and doing such a great job.

Good Pace, Good Amount Of Suspense

It’s not too slow, but not too suspenseful either! I am a gullible reader, so you might be able to catch up on what’s going on faster than I did, but I know that I was constantly in a pleasant state of suspense. The story reveals itself at just the right pace – in time for you to form feelings about certain characters, hunches about others, and just to enjoy the atmosphere and the general feel, however dark it might feel at times.


The Plague Charmer is no walk in the woods of a book – it can be dark and gory, raw and hurtful, but it’s not sugar-coated, it’s real and honest. It’s also incredibly colorful, and submerges you into sort of a film reel about the times. This book was an experience for me, and I can say I was truly invested. Absolutely recommended!

I thank Headline Review for giving me a copy of The Plague Charmer in exchange to my honest opinion. You can buy the book here at Book Depository and buying using this link supports the blog.

Have you read The Plague Charmer yet? Or any other books by Karen Maitland? I’ve heard she crafts incredible middle age worlds in her stories. I will probably be reading another one!

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4 years ago

This sounds awesome!! Adding to my TBR right away!

Rosie Amber
4 years ago

I’ve not read this one, but I have another book by her waiting on my bookshelf. (Company Of Liars)

Sim @ Flipping Through the Pages

Seems like an interesting read. Reading your review, I was feeling as if I am watching a movie with all witches and stuff? 😀
I love middle grade and a story with so much learning definitely deserves an applause.

JJ @ This Dark Material

I was looking forward to your review when I saw the cover in yesterday’s Sunday Post! Atmospheric books are some of my favorites, so I’m gonna have to add this to my TBR.

Stephanie Jane
4 years ago

I’ve not read any Karen Maitland yet, but I think I would love her books. The Plague Charmer certainly looks just my sort of read. Thanks for sharing your review 🙂

Tammy @ Books, Bones & Buffy

This sounds so good, especially since there is a witch character in it:-) I’m intrigued by the “riddles.” I’d love to learn more about those!

Adriana @ BooksOnHerMind

Well I’m convinced. I’ve never heard of anything like this book before so that’s what makes me really intrigued. I’m very interested in the riddles and the three protagonists.

4 years ago

Wow, this is different and I sure like the sound of it

4 years ago

this is interesting, I am definitely hooked on it’s atmosphere 😀 looks dark and exciting. Also, I’m a sucker for good atmospheric books.

Olivia Roach
4 years ago

I’m not sure I could handle this book at this current moment because this year in uni I have a whole year long module dedicated to middle English and medieval world – which includes learning the language too. Which is hard 😛 So I’m a bit scarred and traumatised for the time being but this one sounds so well researched and like it gets the atmosphere just right – so I’ll put it on my radar for in the future. 😉 Great review x

4 years ago

This seems so interesting! I love books with that dark atmosphere <3

herding cats
4 years ago

Sounds interesting. I do enjoy reading about the time period and know without a single doubt I would not have fared well. lol

4 years ago

Awesome review and I’m wanting to read it because of reasons 1 to 3! Adding this to my TBR pile

Dannie @ RAPT
3 years ago

I’m not a huge historical reader, but I’m drawn to your reason 1, the atmosphere. I reviewed a thriller/suspense book once where the author was so narrative and descriptive about how a murderer killed a character and I felt like I was in the scene. When a book can do this to a reader, I’m all in!

Cahleen Hudson
Cahleen Hudson
3 years ago

I’m so glad you told me about this book. I just realized that I read this author’s other plague book, Company of Liars! Looking this book up on Goodreads also helped me find a Bubonic Plague book list that someone made. What?? I’m not the only weirdo out there. The dark atmosphere sounds delicious. Thanks for reviewing!

Cahleen Hudson
Cahleen Hudson
3 years ago

I want to read The Plague Charmer but for some reason my library doesn’t have it. Your review made me want to read it, though, so I’ll keep my eyes open!