For the most part, I truly enjoyed The Dark Monk: A Hangman’s Daughter Tale. It falls into my favorite genre, Historical Fiction. The author bases many of his characters and locations on true people and places. He reports in the afterword that he is the descendant to numerous hangmen including Jakob Kuisl, who apparently had a daughter named Magdalena. He also includes detailed descriptions of the historical sites that played parts in his story, just in case you find yourself in Germany and want to take a tour. I appreciate when authors do this; it really helps to piece everything together for me.
I especially enjoyed the lead characters: Jakob Kuisl (the hangman), Magdalena (the hangman’s daughter) and Simon (the local physician and “boyfriend” to Magdalena). I am glad that I got to know the characters well in the first novel, as the author doesn’t focus on them as much in this story. You can appreciate their connections to each other as their stories intertwine, but the author takes them on separate adventures throughout the book. I would have liked to see Magdalena and Simon’s relationship grow some more, but maybe the author didn’t want to distract from the main storyline.
I was also captivated by the relationship that Jakob and Magdalena had with the town’s characters. I found it intriguing how they could be so shunned and feared by members of the town, yet they run to them when they need cures for their illnesses. Everyone looks down on their family until they are in dire need of their medical skills and knowledge. Even knowing this, you still see their characters evolve. Jakob, for instance, seems to become more empathetic and fair. He won’t let a criminal suffer at the hands of his torture if he feels that person has shown penance or has been wronged by society.
As in books like the The Da Vinci Code (which I also loved), the author takes you on a tour of churches and other religious areas to investigate relics, and how those relics lead to the next clue of the riddle created by the Knights of the Templar. I did find that I really had to pay attention and often had to reread sections as I tried to keep all the sordid details straight. I found myself getting the rival characters mixed up.
In stories where there is friction and discord in the church it always amazes me how the antagonists, often members of religious sects, are able to justify murder and crimes against humanity when it was in the name of God. It really makes you think.
Whereas parts of the story were a little dry and the ending was somewhat anticlimactic, I enjoyed trying to put the pieces of the puzzle together. Also like the Da Vinci Code, I think this series would make a great movie. I am looking forward to the next installment of the Hangman’s Daughter series: The Beggar King. I’ll usually take a break between historical fiction books, but this one will be on my upcoming list for sure.
Also available for the Nook (Barnes & Noble)