When I got the email from NetGalley saying that I had been approved for this title, I was so excited. I immediately started reading because I adore The Hangman’s Daughter series. The characters are memorable, flawed, and relatable. The books deal with a variety of issues including public perception, the difference between social classes, and the role of women. They are deftly plotted mysteries that keep you guessing until the end.
Overall Score: 3.5/10
Genre: Historical Fiction, Medieval, Mystery/Thriller
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Release Date: 07/19/2016 (English edition)
Source: Received a free copy from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review
In 1524, in what is now Germany, hundreds of thousands of peasants revolted against the harsh treatment of their aristocratic overlords. Agnes is the daughter of one of these overlords, but she is not a typical sixteenth-century girl, refusing to wear dresses and spending more time with her pet falcon than potential suitors. There is only one suitor she is interested in: Mathis, a childhood friend who she can never marry due to his low birth status. But when a rogue knight attacks Agnes and Mathis shoots the knight to save her, the two are forced to go on the run together, into the midst of the raging Peasants’ War. Over the next two years, as Agnes and Mathis travel the countryside, they are each captured by and escape from various factions of the war, participate in massive battles, make new friends both noble and peasant, and fall in love. Meanwhile, Agnes’s falcon finds a mysterious ring, and Agnes begins having strange, but seemingly meaningful dreams. Dreams that lead the two lovers to revelations about their place in the world and in the emerging German states.
As I mentioned above, before I started this book, I was incredibly excited to read another work by Oliver Potzsch. His Hangman’s Daughter series is one of my favorites and I really enjoyed the The Ludwig Conspiracy. His characterization is usually top-notch, his settings so beautifully described that you can imagine yourself there, and his plots defy woven, with surprises even for the most astute of readers. Unfortunately, after reading the first half of the book, I ended up skimming through the rest because the plot had become incredibly slow.
This book was wonderfully researched and had the potential to be a well-written, beautiful piece of historical fiction. All of the components were there, they just didn’t quite fit together correctly. As with his other books, the setting was top-notch. Agnes and Mathis’ world came alive for me, I could easily picture the crumbling ruins of the castle, the slightly sinister forest, the prison pit, etc.
However, The characters themselves lacked personality, any depth, or consistency with their actions. I wasn’t able to connect with either of the protagonists, which made it difficult for me to care about what happened to them. Agnes had the potential to be a very interesting character (she’s caught up in a huge conspiracy and gets visions), but the writing didn’t allow her to achieve that potential. Additionally, Mathis was never really developed beyond his rebellious tendencies and love for Agnes. The secondary characters were a little more interesting as they had slightly more depth, but it wasn’t enough to make up for the protagonists.
I think the plot itself was interesting and intriguing. Had there been about 200 fewer pages in this book and some heavier editing, it would be an incredible work of historical fiction. As it was, I enjoyed the way that the mystery unraveled. Skimming the last half of the book, I was able to pick up on the major plot points and arrive at the ending with a fun comprehension of how the final scene had been set up.
After looking at the rave reviews of the German version, I’m not sure if the flaws in this book were the fault of the author or the translator but either way, the english edition does not live up to its potential.