Why Our Staff Love City of Crows:
Chris Womersley’s latest novel is his best by far. It is vivid, dark and simply enthralling. Set in France in 1673, a time of pestilence, poverty and fear, this is the tale of the young peasant woman, Charlotte Picot, whose son is abducted into the grimy underworld of slavers. Seemingly forsaken by God, her desperate quest to recapture him gives her only one choice; to resort to the black arts of witchcraft. Aided by her newfound supernatural power, she enslaves a fellow traveller, the scarred ex-convict Lesage. The worldly Lesage’s skills in human powerplay may aid her in Paris, a city where no one can be trusted and nothing is as it seems. Here, devil-deals are rife, witches are hustlers, and precious freedom may be fleeting. There is talk of treasure for those who dare, but danger is ever present.
If you’re put off by its magical premise, be assured that this is no fantasy novel. Nor is it strictly an historical novel per sé - there are no bright-costumed maidens or flying dragons to be found here. In this menacing and brutal society, women are allowed power only if it comes from magic, and all magic relies on belief. To maintain power, the timid Charlotte must convince herself and others that she holds it, and force the reluctant Lesage to surrender to a female.
Although the narrative rips along, you’ll want to read this book slowly in order to savour its wonderful prose. The descriptions are rich; both painterly and cinematic (imagine Hieronymous Bosch filmed by Terry Gilliam). It has a language full of texture and smell, with spell chants reminiscent of Shakespeare’s Macbeth. The book is never clichéd, and Womersley has clearly put years of work into City of Crows, animating its settings with knowledge of the occult and herbal lore.With nods to many an old classic, the novel grabs you from the first page and carries you forward. A highly satisfying read with deeper sexual politics for those who look, this is a pungent page-turner that may well cast a spell on you.
It contains fire and intrigue and mighty storms. Shipwreck and all that has ever happened in the world. Murder, if need be...1673. Desperate to save herself and her only surviving child Nicolas from an outbreak of plague, Charlotte Picot flees her tiny village in the French countryside.
But when Nicolas is abducted by a troop of slavers, Charlotte resorts to witchcraft and summons assistance in the shape of a malevolent man. She and her companion travel to Paris where they become further entwined in the underground of sorcerers and poisoners - and where each is forced to reassess their ideas of good and evil.
Before Charlotte is finished she will wander hell's halls, trade with a witch and accept a demon's fealty. Meanwhile, a notorious criminal is unexpectedly released from the prison galleys where he has served a brutal sentence for sacrilege...