Reviewed by Ambrea
Matthew Corbett, following Magistrate Woodward as he duly devoted clerk, arrives in Carolina's Fount Royal under the unenviable task of investigating reports of witchcraft. Rachel Howarth has been accused of murder, witchcraft, along with a list of sundry crimes and misdemeanors, and she is all but sentenced for her perceived crimes. However, a greater evil lurks in Fount Royal—one that will test Matthew’s resolve to seek truth and endanger the very foundation of his faith.
For the most part, I really enjoyed Speaks the Nightbird. It’s incredibly precise and beautifully detailed, depicting Fount Royal and Matthew’s subsequent exploration of the town with such grace and detail as to make it feel real. I simply loved the realism and history that Robert McCammon afforded his novel: it gives Speaks the Nightbird a life entirely of its own.
While I can’t say it’s a lovely novel—in fact, it’s filled with cruelty, danger, murder, deceit, violence, abuse and tragedy (among other grotesque things). It isn’t a novel for the faint of heart, that’s certainly assured—it has been so lovingly crafted by its author that it creates a singularly pleasant experience in the reading. It’s not necessarily a thrill-a-minute story, but it keeps a decent pace and lays out enough bread crumbs as to entice readers to dig deeper and explore farther into the dark heart of Fount Royal and its surrounding wilderness.
Additionally, I liked that McCammon made careful note of Matthew’s emotional and physical state as his investigation proceeds, pinpointing great moments of change, remarking upon his intellectual and emotional evolution. Matthew is such a critical character to Speaks the Nightbird that I thought it only appropriate that the author spends a great portion of his time dedicated to noting Matthew’s character development. I like that, as a reader, I get to see the full range of his growth.
Not only does McCammon allow his readers the opportunity to enjoy the development of his characters, he also fully immerses his readers in the world he seeks to create. Speaks the Nightbird dives headfirst into the history of early, colonial America, broaching subjects of even the most unsavory origin and touching upon the incredible cultural differences between the modern world and the Carolina Territory in 1699.
For instance, I discovered mention of wasps used as pest control. Apparently, wasps were allowed to build nests in the homes of colonial settlers, in order to control the population of mosquitos and other pests, which is a prospect that I find entirely terrifying—and, of course, mystifying in the modern age. Likewise, I stumbled upon instances of bloodletting and “blistering” (don’t ask) in medical treatments. It’s truly fascinating to compare the world I know and the world of the distant past, which McCammon shows me, and see the incredible differences between them.
As much as I enjoyed Speaks the Nightbird, I should be completely honest that McCammon’s novel isn’t the best choice if a reader finds oneself made squeamish by blood—or uncomfortable with shocking behavior, including but not limited to murder, brutality, bestiality, abuse, greed, torture, and etc.
I must admit that I was scandalized by Fount royal and its superstitious citizenry. Surprised, horrified, disgusted, sickened—scarred may even be accurate—just to name a few of the feeling that influenced my emotional state. I mean, there’s the utterly horrible dean of the almshouse where Matthew lived as a child and the noxious Shawcomb, neither of whom is technically a citizen of Fount Royal; however, I think that’s beside the point. There really is no respite from the terrible things that seem to keep happening.
Full of adventure, intrigue, suspense and mystery, Speaks the Nightbird is a truly amazing piece of work. It’s a massive undertaking, but I was emotionally invested for so long that I simply had to find out the truth, like Matthew. When finished, I found it brought a feeling of accomplishment rivaled by no other; however, I would recommend reading McCammon’s novel in moderation and keeping one warning in mind: expect the absolute worst to happen, because it will—and it has ample opportunity to get worse.
Matthew Corbett Series
1. Speaks the Nightbird
2. The Queen of Bedlam
3. Mister Slaughter
4. The Providence Rider
5. The River of Souls
6. Freedom of the Mask (2016)