Sinful Folk, by Ned Hayes
There are secrets behind secrets behind even more secrets in Ned Hayes'Sinful Folk. Just when you think you've gotten to the bottom of everything in this dark tale of justice, Hayes reveals something that turns everything around. And lurking behind the story is the actual history, making you wonder just how much of the fiction is actually fiction, and how much might actually have happened all those centuries ago. The writing is spare. Nothing is embellished. Nothing needs to be. But you'll need to pay attention to every word and take nothing for granted.
Five boys died a terrible death in December 1377. Their parents, maddened by grief set off from their village to seek justice from their king. Mear is our narrator and holds more secrets than most. She used to be known as Miriam of Houmout. She was a nun who fell in love with a prince, then had to run after the birth of their child. She kept his ring, but it's the only proof she has of what happened and who she really is. But for ten years, she has been pretending to be a mute man. She only spoke to her son, Christian. But after his death, she travels with the other fathers.
On their journey from the tiny, hidden village of Duns to London, almost every horrible thing that can happen to them does. They encounter bandits, impatient monks with too much power, weary knights, and famine-wracked peasants. Even the winter weather is their enemy. To make it all worse, it's clear that there is a traitor in their midst. Mear keeps her silence for most of the book as she pieces together what actually happened to the boys from the things her fellow travels let drop and her memories of other violence acts that happened in Duns.
Detail of Edward's tomb, showing alternating escutcheons that,
together, read "Ich diene Houmout."
Hayes writes Miriam's story with a delicate touch that I relished. If you can stand the harshness, the madness, and the fear of the fourteenth century, I highly recommend Sinful Folk.