A Murder of Crows (Arcana Europa), Hayden Thorne
Rating: 4.5 Stars
Publisher: Hayden Thorne
Genre: Gay Fiction
Tags: Alternate Universe, Ghosts, Magic, Mystery, Paranormal, Romance, Victorian (mid-19th century)
Purchase At: Amazon.com
Blessed with the unique talent of Inscriptive magic, twenty-year-old Mathieu Perrault leaves his old life in France and the orphanage that has been his home since his childhood for work as the new tutor to a five-year-old mute girl. His head filled with dreams and endless possibilities, Mathieu soon finds himself in a great house tucked away in the quiet wooded hills of the northern region of Luxembourg.
A house occupied by an ailing Dutch artist, one burdened with a terrible secret, and his charming family. A house shadowed by the sudden death of a well-loved servant. A servant, in fact, whose ghost stirs from its dusky world and seeks out Mathieu in terror. Through echoes of past events in unlit hallways, incoherent messages carved into walls, and the eerie vigilance of crows guarding the family, the ghost does what it can to warn Mathieu of a coming danger.
And in the midst of warmth, laughter, and family, of friendship and magic, of young love blooming against a backdrop of terrible heartache and tragedy, Mathieu searches for answers in a dreamer’s bid to give the ghost the peace long denied it. All the while, a twisted shadow from the past creeps forward, inching closer and closer to him, a vicious hunger that leaves ruin and death in its wake.
In that isolated great house among the silent trees and the watchful crows, Mathieu will soon learn that the restoration of balance in a world gone awry doesn’t always lie in the sphere of ordinary, mortal men.
When Mathieu, 20, arrives at the house in the woods he’s eagerly looking forward to tutoring young Aletta. He’s hoping that his special form of magic will flow to his young charge. His first job away from the orphanage he grew up in, he’s desperate to prove himself. He’s not prepared for what he walks into. The journey is an interesting one as he’s surrounded by crows as he slowly makes his way to the large house the first time. The crows play a big part of the story later, but the reader doesn’t know if they’re warning of upcoming evil or are actually evil themselves.
The first person Mathieu meets is Aletta’s uncle, Josef. Josef, 25, is so handsome that Mathieu finds himself tongue-tied and blushing just by being in his presence. Then there’s Aletta’s mother, Saskia. Saskia and Josef are very close, both doting on five-year-old Aletta. There’s Saskia and Josef’s father, an aging artist who spends most of his days locked away in his studio. Then there’s Aletta herself. She was born unable to speak but she can hear fine and communicates very well via her ‘finger movements’ – re: sign language. She and Mathieu have an instant bond. I adored her right off. She’s very intelligent for her age.
Mathieu hasn’t even had time to get comfortable in his new position before strange things start happening. The crows have gotten loud and are hovering outside the window of the classroom where he teaches Aletta. They appear to be waiting for Mathieu to do something, but what? Then he starts seeing things written in places that would be hard for anyone to access. Cryptic messages that make little sense to him, with the exception of a name: Marjam. When he finally works up the courage to ask questions about Marjam, he’s told a story about a young servant who committed suicide in the lake on the property. The lake is dark and foreboding. Mathieu has been ordered to keep Aletta away from it at all costs.
Aletta speaks often about the sad fairy in the woods. At first it appears as if the little girl has an overactive imagination, but then Mathieu begins to question if maybe she really is seeing someone – or some thing.
Then there are the nightly visits…
Each night Mathieu is awakened by sounds outside his bedroom door. There’s shuffling right before somebody stops and attempts to turn the doorknob. To say he’s terrified is an understatement. Then he starts seeing what he believes is the ghost of young Marjam. Suddenly Aletta’s sad fairy talk doesn’t sound quite so far-fetched.
Throughout everything there’s a growing attraction between Mathieu and Josef. Only when Mathieu confides his fears about Marjam to Josef do things really start to come together. There’s still a mystery to be solved – Why did Marjam commit suicide? What or who is she trying to warn Mathieu away from? – but now there’s support from within the household and relief that Mathieu isn’t seeing or experiencing things that simply aren’t there.
A Murder of Crows has a little bit of everything. There’s the large house surrounded by woods and close to the creepy lake where a young woman went to her death. There’s the bad guy who may or may not have had something to do with what happened to the young woman. There are secrets being kept by the patriarch of the family. There are the cryptic messages, the nighttime visits, the ghost of the woman, and even a budding romance between the wealthy uncle and the orphaned tutor. Throw in a unique cast of secondary characters and the story is complete.
I’m not normally a big fan of books that aren’t contemporary. I don’t find myself enjoying stories where characters have to hide who they are and are looked down upon by society. In historical settings that’s almost always the case. Not in this book. This is set in an alternate universe (of sorts) but it’s still not in a contemporary setting. Thankfully Josef and Mathieu being gay isn’t an issue for the family or society. What I do love are books with ghosts, a good mystery, anything with children, and entertaining secondary characters. I’m a sucker for a good romance, so there’s that as well. A Murder of Crows had it all. The romance may not take center until much later – and it shouldn’t, really – but it does play a nice part in the story as a whole.
The mystery is written well and I was happy with the way that was resolved. It was actually the perfect resolution and something I didn’t see coming. The author also wrote an epilogue that I absolutely loved, giving the reader a glimpse into what’s happening a few years down the road.
Overall, a very entertaining read. I’m eager to read more by the author.
This book was provided by the author in exchange for a fair and honest review.
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