In the sequel to the critically acclaimed Plague Land, we return to Somershill Manor, where an ominous legend takes hold of hearts and minds as children begin to disappear.
Oswald de Lacy is growing up fast in his new position as Lord of Somershill Manor. However, there is still the same amount of work to be done in the farms and fields, and the few people left to do it think they should be paid more—something the King himself has forbidden.
Just as anger begins to spread, the story of the Butcher Bird takes flight. People claim to have witnessed a huge creature in the skies. A new-born baby is found impaled on a thorn bush. And then more children disappear. Convinced the bird is just a superstitious rumor, Oswald must discover what is really happening. He can expect no help from his snobbish mother and his scheming sister Clemence, who is determined to protect her own child, but happy to neglect her step-daughters.
From the plague-ruined villages of Kent to the thief-infested streets of London and the luxurious bedchamber of a bewitching lady, Oswald's journey is full of danger, dark intrigue, and shocking revelations.
British author Sykes establishes herself firmly as a major talent with this hard-edged sequel to 2015's Plague Land. In 1351, Oswald de Lacy, the lord of Kent's Somershill Manor, learns that his life is a lie. He's actually the son of a peasant, switched at birth with the true heir, Thomas Starvecrow, who died in infancy. The revelation leads him to seek out Starvecrow's grave, which turns out to contain only an effigy. Meanwhile, Oswald's manorial court must deal with madman John Barrow, who claims to have been confronted by a monstrous bird that escaped into the night. Barrow becomes the target of a lynch mob after the corpse of a newborn girl, only just baptized, is left impaled on a thorn bush, as if by a butcher bird or shrike large enough to carry off a child. Sykes artfully integrates both puzzles with the politics of the time, as the survivors of the recent plague, which killed about half the English population, deal with its economic repercussions.