1316. On the wilds of Dartmoor stands the isolated Priory of St Mary, home to the Sisters of the Knights of St John. People journey from afar in search of healing at the holy well that lies beneath its chapel. But the locals believe Dartmoor was theirs long before Christianity came to the land. And not all who visit seek miracles. When three strangers reach the moor, fear begins to stir as the well’s waters run with blood. What witchcraft have the young woman, the Knight of St John and the blind child brought with them?

The queen of dark historical fiction, Karen Maitland, returns with another story of terror and superstition from medieval times. Once again her story comes alive with the sights and smells of the medieval era, creating an incredibly rich sense of atmosphere.

Maitland introduces her characters with beautifully written prose which paints the medieval world so vividly that you’ll be convinced you’re standing right beside them, feeling the heat of the fire on your face, or the mud squelching beneath your boots. The reader is plunged into a nightmarish version of Dartmoor where phantom hounds stalk the moors and storms toss houses into the wind.

My favourite character is Brother Nicholas, a Knight of St John who has spent his life fighting for his beliefs with sword and fist, but who begins to see things that make him question whether the old gods might hold sway after all. Brother Nicholas is the most interesting and well-rounded character, and it’s a shame that this doesn’t extend to every character in the book, some of whom never really seem to show any personality.

One of the main themes is the conflict between old beliefs and new, as supernatural forces appear to battle for the well beneath the priory’s chapel. On the one hand we have the beliefs of the Sisters of the Knights of St John, secluded behind the walls of their priory, safe and warm and fed; and on the other hand we have the darker, older beliefs of those living out on the moors, struggling to eke out a living in a harsh landscape that speaks with its own menacing voices.

This is definitely a slow burn. Maitland builds layers of atmosphere until the tension is almost unbearable, and by the end, the story hurtles along at breakneck speed; you’ll feel like you’re running down a steep hill with no way of stopping.

A stunningly atmospheric book, the brilliant writing more than makes up for any flaws.

Many thanks to Headline for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.