Tag Archives: Low Countries

OWL KILLERS by Karen Maitland

Owl Killers

During the Middle Ages, a lay group of women dedicated to a life of prayer, hard work, and community service thrived in the Low Countries. Known as the Beguines, Karen Maitland imagines what it might have been like for a group of these women to have struck out on their own to settle in an unwelcoming English town. The atmosphere is tense as the women are seen as outsiders, not part of Mother Church and not part of the resident pagan tradition either. The women bring their ideas of Christian charity to the townsfolk who regard them with suspicion and sometimes open hostility. As the village suffers through a series of disasters, the power of the Church is threatened, dark forces from earlier times reawaken, and the beguines must decide to make a stand or return to the safety of their continental shores.

Karen Maitland novel is well-researched and executed. The story is told from the various viewpoints of the characters in the town of Ulewic. In this way, we learn each of the beguine’s has her own history and her own reasons for joining the group. We understand the struggles of the local priest as he fits into a system that leaves him little room for personal choice. A nobleman’s daughter helps us feel the restrictions of living as a young woman in Medieval society. An array of townsfolk completes the cast. The Owl Killers are a group of masked men who harken back to a day before law and order. They are definitely flesh and blood and do their share of evil, but Maitland has, at times, blurred the line. Although most of the story feels firmly planted in third dimensional reality, there are a few places where things take on an otherworldly creepiness. Man’s ability for cruelty can be disturbing and this book certainly has those moments. The ending may leave you wanting more or maybe something else entirely.

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Tulipmania (again!)

Semper_Augustus_Tulip

This is the Semper Augustus, a remarkable tulip of the 17th Century which fueled the world’s first love for the exotic and magical bulb. My recent visit to the Keukenhof gardens indicates flower lovers still lust after its charm. So do I.

dav

Several years ago, I got caught up in the story of the tulip. Way back in 1554, an ambassador to Turkey sent some bulbs and seeds back home. These found their way into Vienna and then into the Low Counties. It took the careful work of Carolus Clusius (a botanist at the University of Leiden) to cultivate and catalog those bulbs that could tolerate the local conditions and soon tulips were popular. Newly independent Holland had a unique flower and it soon became a luxury item. More and more fantastic species were developed. The most sought after tulips actually suffered from a virus that broke the colors into streaks. Eventually, a whole speculative trade came into existence in which people who bought the bulbs never saw them and never possessed them. Tulip fever reached its height in the winter of 1636 when a single bulb might be traded as many as ten times in a day. Then abruptly in February, there came a day when traders just stayed home. The bubble had burst. Fortunes had been made and lost.

dav

This is the background I used to create a YA ghost story. The manuscript has come within a hair’s width of publication four times with different publishers. My own gamble and bust market. Eventually, I do think this manuscript will come into the world, but until then enjoy some photos of the tulips that fueled, Tender Tulips, Dark Diamonds: A Ghost Story. The flowers of the Keukenhof are breathtaking and short-lived.

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