The Owl Killers by Karen Maitland
There's a part of me that will never tire of medieval historical fiction. Thusly, it is impossible to ever get tired of Karen Maitland, who also wrote Company of Liars and The Gallow's Curse in this genre.
The novel is centered around an English town called Ulewic in the year 1321. Writing with an eye for details, Maitland does a superb job of staying true to the lives of English villagers in that time, all the while writing a supernatural tale dominated by the Owl Masters, a Pagan cult. As if the book wasn't interesting enough, the cult is not entirely fictional, it actually existed and still exists today. Yes, be afraid!
Already suffering from barren lands and a general propensity to fall into misfortune, the residents of Ulewic are at the mercy of power struggle between the Catholic church and the presence of a Pagan deity (the Owlamn) and his cult. With both sides using violent fear tactics to vie for power over the villagers, it is pretty entertaining for us as readers, and well, horrific for the villagers.
Being historical fiction, the cultures of the time apply, but the events themselves are totally up to Maitland. I am satisfied with this novel because she does not write the story with a bias toward either Catholicism or Pagan traditions. In other words, certain boundaries can be crossed, and more perspectives to the traditions of the time can be looked at honestly. As with Maitland's other works, it doesn't hurt that the novel is constantly making you cringe; like any good writer, she knows how to torture her characters.
One of the greatest components of this novel is the author's resolve to preserve the air of fear surrounding English villagers of that time. Superstition, magic, and ritual practices played major roles in their lives, and The Owl Killers does a fantastic job of giving villagers--the underdogs of history--a voice to speak through.