Bookish conversation with author Samantha Wilcoxson.
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I'm not sure exactly what I was expecting when I started reading Sinful Folk, but I don't think this was it. This novel is unique in many ways, and each character has deeply hidden secrets that only slowly and partially are revealed.
The author has based this story on two seemingly insignificant tidbits of historical fact.
1) In 1377, in the village of Duns, 5 boys were burned to death in a house fire. The parents decided to travel to London in order to present the boys bodies to the king and demand justice.
2) The tomb of Edward the Black Prince reads, at his request, "Ich dien Houmout." I serve is clear enough, but Houmout remains a mystery.
In this dark Canterbury Tales style novel, Hayes creates his version of the 5 boys who were killed and their parents. The historical record does not reveal if the original party reached London or if they ever discovered what had happened to the boys. A series of discoveries are made in this novelized version that will cause you to think over and over again that you know the truth, only to be proved wrong by new evidence.
The story is told from the point of view of Mear, the mother of one of the boys - except that everyone in the village believes that she is his father. We are given little detail on how this former nun managed to convince an entire village that she was a man, besides the fact that she also claimed to be mute, and therefore had no need to disguise her voice.
She is understandably obsessed with learning the truth about her son. As we learn more about Mear's past, her son's importance is even greater than anyone knows. Connections between characters are expertly created, though Mear always stays at least somewhat to herself. She trusts no one, believing that the killer is one of the men she travels with.
My main issue with this book was not understanding why some of the events would take place, beginning with why parents would load up their children's dead bodies and cart them away to London, rather than pursuing the case without this gory evidence. Other events that I will not give away also left me thinking, "but why?" Setting those feelings aside, the storytelling was expertly done and I was kept wondering until the end what the outcome would be.
Many obstacles keep the travelers from reaching their goal, but many surprising truths are eventually revealed. All on the path are sinful folk, with secrets they are hiding and lies they are telling. Even Mear herself.