Author: Rosie Garland
Page count: 407 pages (trade paperback)
Rating: 4/5 stars (though in hindsight I`d say 3.5 stars)
Trigger warnings for the book: pestilence, disease, extreme religion, domestic abuse, very unsanitary situations, people being general idiots
Bonuspoints for the book: LGBT main characters
Spoiler warnings for the book: this is a spoilerfree review
Rosie Garland’s extraordinary tale is a story of superstition and devotion in the time of the Black Death and will bewitch both new readers and fans of her much-loved debut, The Palace of Curiosities.
Devon, 1349. In Brauntone, where seagulls screech across the fields and the wind has a mind to change, Father Thomas arrives as the new priest. Determined to impress his congregation, he quells fears of the coming pestilence with promises of protection.
For Anne, the priest’s arrival is an opportunity that at sixteen, she feels all too ready for. Convinced a grand fate awaits, she moves in as Thomas’s housekeeper, though hopeful of something more. But his home is a place without love or kindness. So when a strange, mute Maid is discovered, washed up in the marshes, and taken in, Anne is grateful for the company. Their friendship is to give Anne the chance of a happiness she thought she’d never know.
But soon the plague strikes Brauntone, spreading panic. And as the villagers’ fear turns to anger, Thomas must sacrifice anything to restore their faith in him.
Let me start off by saying two things:
- this book is really, really gorgeous. The cover, with its velvety finish and the shiny silver flowers and the beautiful design is what drew me to this book in the first place. It`s absolutely stunning.
- this book`s summary is not a good one. In fact, I`d say it`s a terrible summary that promises a lot of false things.
What drew me to this book, besides its beautiful cover, was the promise of the plague. I have a lot of interest in the Black Death, and I suppose it`s what you`d call a “buzzword”, a word that definitely gets me interested in a story. Combine it with religion, fear, and a whole village on the edge, and you have me interested.
I ended up getting something else entirely. Vixen, as it turns out, is not about the plague, nor is it really about father Thomas. Do they both play an important role? Well yes.
But much, much more important and actually the center of the book and its happenings are Anne and the Maid. Their friendship, that later deepens into a full relationship, is what it`s about. This book is about Anne discovering who she really is and what she really wants, it`s about the Maid learning to trust and confide after a lifetime of not trusting anyone.
I enjoyed this book, I really did. I was interested to see where the story was going. I thought the small touch of some kind of magical realism (or was it?) at the beginning was a bit out of place, and it definitely disappeared later on which I actually appreciated. It felt much more grounded in reality later, much more like a historical novel with interesting people.
But in hindsight, having finished it a while ago? I`ve lost quite a lot of the enthusiasm about this book. Part of it is because it got overshadowed by The Song of Achilles, which was just bad timing for Vixen (but I couldn`t know that yet at that point). And part of it is just that this book is entirely forgettable. It didn`t leave that much of an impression, it didn`t stick with me the way good books do. I`m actually thinking quite hard here about what to write in this review because this book left so little impression on me that I`m a bit at a loss of what to write. Were there other themes I could go into? Other interesting characters? Nothing that comes to mind easily.
It`s a good book, while it lasts. It`s definitely worth a read, and I might reread it at some point to see if I get something else out of it then. But for now? I`m happy just having it on my bookshelf.
Have you read Vixen? Then let me know what you thought of it down below in the comments!
Take care, and I`ll see you guys soon 🙂
(The next review will be of The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller, and I am currently reading both War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy and Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn.)