Set in 17th century France and inspired by real-life events, this novel tells the story of Charlotte Picot, a rural woman who braves a chaotic Paris to search for her only-remaining son, enlisting in the hunt a man she encounters and mistakes for a spirit from the underworld.
[Womersley's] an exciting writer, with the ability to bend and flex his talent in different directions. He does that again in City of Crows, which is based on real characters and is original both in ambition and execution ... The way Womersley develops plot is persistently intriguing and intricate without being confusing ... Womersley is an eloquent and technically skilled writer. He chooses words carefully, each sentence a shorthand covering place, atmosphere, time and character. Descriptions are sharp and evocative. And he can be playful with language ... The level of historical detail feels authentic and makes the reading all the more engrossing. These characters are largely the product of their conditions, emboldening readers to contemplate what they might have been in a different era ... The climax of the novel is a ferocious reminder of how potent and widespread the lure of magic once was.
By interweaving the trivial, the humorous and the grisliest of the grisly, Chris Womersley straps us in for a shivery ride ... It’s a colorful cast, some of them fictional, some of them real, and when you include the child-trafficking into which Nicolas has been pitched, a side story involving the king’s mistress and, naturally, an old map leading to buried treasure, there’s enough plot for several novels. This abundance supplies admirable energy. It does, however, reduce the narrative’s scope for subtlety and this is a problem ... description alone, however detailed and unsparing, isn’t enough to grip, but the author’s enthusiasm fuels the slow-burning horror of his tale ... Sometimes in a Gothic novel authors lose courage and prettify the end. No danger of that here. Unafraid to go where the novel has taken him, Womersley produces a finale that’s both slippery and perfectly in keeping. And beware. Just when you think it’s all over, the author’s note turns out to be as Gothic as the novel itself.
Highlighting the experiences of the poor in times of crises past, Australian author Womersley...challenges audiences to suspend perceptions of reality and, at times, morality in favor of his storytelling ... Though at times a laborious and often bleak read, the narratives of two unlikely companions create an entertaining and intelligent work for historical fiction fans.