Requiem for a Knave by Laura Carlin – Book Review

Title: Requiem for a Knave (review copy)

Author: Laura Carlin

Genre/Themes: Historical Fiction, Gender Politics, Identity

Blurb from Goodreads

From the author of The Wicked Cometh comes a dark, page-turning tale of passion and romance in the darkest of places. . .

After the death of his mother, young Alwin of Whittaker leaves the only home he has ever known to seek answers about his unknown father through a pilgrimage to the shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham.

On the journey, Alwin falls in with a band of violent and marauding soldiers and is witness to their terrible crimes. When Alwin later joins up with a group of pilgrims, he must hide his identity . . . but he is not the only one with secrets to keep. Rosamund, a young woman travelling the same path, has much to conceal too.

The journey to discovering who he really is will lead Alwin into great danger and great passion. These are dark times, and through them, Alwin must shine a light. Will the revelations to come destroy everything that came before?

My Review

Requiem for a Knave is a historical fiction with a very contemporary theme; that of gender politics and identity.

The story follows Alwin of Whittaker who, upon his mother’s deathbed request, goes on pilgrimage to the shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham in Norfolk, England in an effort to both protect himself from the wrath of his grandfather and to seek answers about the identity of his father.

He is urged by the priest, Father Oswald, to hold off on his journey for a few days until the priest can accompany Alwin as both guide and spiritual protector. Father Oswald directs Alwin to stay at a priory and gives him a letter for the prioress but on Alwin’s journey to the priory he falls in with a band of soldiers who convince him to tell the prioress to give them accommodation too…

This ultimately ends up in quite a horrific and upsetting scene to read about as the soldiers rape and murder almost the entire community of nuns and Alwin has to live with this shame.

He later meets up with Father Oswald and another group of pilgrims but keeps secret his presence at the priory during the brutal attack. One of the members of the pilgrimage is a young girl called Rosamund who also seems to be keeping secrets from the group. The two begin to trust each other and a deep relationship develops. And together she and Alwin uncover the secrets of Alwin’s upbringing and his father’s true identity.

The story is quite an interesting one as it really explores the idea of woman being subordinate to man and asks if gender is merely a societal construct (spoiler alert, yes it is!) and we only act in our binary roles due to our upbringing. I was fascinated to read such a modern theme in a book with such a strong sense of history both with its setting (some unspecified time in the Middle Ages) and with the style of prose that the author used throughout.

But it didn’t completely work for me.

I felt the story was, at times, sacrificed for heavy handedness of theme. I would have liked a little more nuance with regard to Alwin’s views and upbringing regarding the place of women in society. It’s difficult to discuss without using spoilers and I do understand the narrative choices as to why such a heavy handed approach was taken, but I think greater subtlety would have added an extra dimension to the plot and would have given a more intense air of gravitas to the ultimate truth of the book.

The prose felt too weighty to me; the author chose to use a style that was befitting the era which sometimes tended to be clunky rather than lyrical.

I also found the pace to be a little too slow for my personal taste; even though there were some plot developments that I did not see coming (kudos for that). But ultimately I found the novel to be quite dull by the end. All the major action had happened by about the 80% mark and therefore I felt the book took too long to come to its completion.

There were an unnecessary glut of “bad guys” that needed dealing with; supporting characters were a weak part of this story as the so-called bad guys very much bled into one character as opposed to being two distinct identities.

The last two chapters especially needed editing into one and perhaps then be called an epilogue that occurred some months later. As I felt in their current guise the story seemed to needlessly be dragged out for another couple of months just for the sake of Alwin’s personal character growth that really should have occurred throughout the main time line of the story.

However, I did enjoy the book overall and would recommend it to fans of historical fiction as it has an truly unique storyline with very thought provoking themes running throughout. And I will definitely be reading more by this author in the future.

An e-copy of this book was kindly provided to me by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review

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