Wednesday 28 October 2015

Reviewed: The Butcher Bird by S D Sykes

The Butcher Bird is book two in the Somershill Manor Mystery series. It was published by Hodder & Stoughton on October 22, 2015.

Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy of this book to review.

The Butcher Bird hooked me right from the first page and it never let me go – I was engrossed from start to finish and what a brilliantly executed story this was. Though it is the second book of the series, it can be read on its own but I chose to read the first book, Plague Land, straight before and it felt great to be back in Somershill – with its uncomfortable dynamics and interesting characters. It’s made easy to get a feel for the backstory straight away as the author really builds up the layers of history and sets the scene well. Her vivid description and attention to detail from the characters’ appearances to their social standing and emotions all made me get into the story more and, having never read medieval mystery before, all my worries of the plot going over my head were thrown away right at the beginning. Butcher Bird isn’t the most complex of mystery novels but there are plenty of twists to lead you off track and I found it to be highly fascinating.

Oswald de Lacy, Lord of Somershill Manor, is a character I couldn’t help but root for. There were always so many things going on in his young life – from trying to uncover the mystery to deterring the ‘butcher bird’ theories and dealing with a group of pretty sour residents, not to mention his humorously mad mother and sister. With every turn of the page, Oswald had something else to deal with but I found him endearing and an easy character to like. Some of his descriptions of people made me laugh and I loved the style and tone to this book – how really he was talking to the reader rather than the author telling us what was happening. It allowed me to pick up on his feelings and doubts and so I found I had a good understanding of his character, unlike the miserable characters he had to face on a daily basis. The author’s characterisation was a strong point – I feel like I could picture the main characters exactly as was intended as there was plenty of effortless detail and research to her writing.

The event leading to the mystery of this novel made me wince, I have to admit. A new born baby is discovered impaled on a thorn bush – leading to the theory that is was the huge butcher bird that put it there. It seemed like everybody in Somershill had their own opinion on the matter, and most of them were to the belief that the butcher bird existed and did so, though Oswald spent a lot of time telling them that idea was ridiculous. As Oswald sets out to uncover what really happened, I was captivated by the idea of this massive creature – the butcher bird – and whether it truly existed. The idea sounded ridiculous and yet I couldn’t wait to read on and learn more. Each time I picked this book up, I read for far longer than I had intended to because it was mostly compelling and always intriguing. There were a couple of times I thought there was a bit of a lull in the narrative, where things seemed to go round in circles a little bit but the author soon brought the story out of it and a new strand to the mystery had me drawn back in. Twists and revelations had me turning the pages so quickly, ready to learn more and I thought the author’s control of the pace was great.

Other than the mystery, there’s plenty of things to keep the reader entertained in The Butcher Bird. One of my favourite parts was seeing Oswald’s family, his domineering mother and his heavily pregnant sister, Clemence. I loved the dynamics between them – how despite Oswald’s standing, his mother still always told him what to do and couldn’t believe it when he stood up for himself, against her. Clemence was quite cold and bossy, maybe a little bitter at times but I did like her character. I loved Oswald’s way of describing her and how humour was interlaced with the story involving his unbecoming family, who were a bit of a nightmare. I laughed out loud at some of the descriptions and things that happened, especially early on, which was a nice contrast to the rest of the story which although wasn’t overly serious, had a level of mystery that was more engaging and with the times than witty.

I truly enjoyed reading The Butcher Bird and having read it straight after Plague Land, I’m now a little sad to be approaching a book which has nothing to do with Somershill or Oswald de Lacy. I’m such a fan of Oswald’s character that it makes the books in this series so readable and I really can’t wait for the next instalment. Oswald is courageous and has inner strengths, not necessarily the obvious fit to his role but that makes him so interesting to read about as it’s equally a case of seeing him learn more about his role and the people he encounters than solving the mystery. Seeing him grow as a character and uncover the truth was very satisfying and I found The Butcher Bird to be even stronger than Plague Land – but both are fantastic novels.

Intriguing and enthralling, a brilliant medieval mystery

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