Title: The Tale of the Tailor and the Three Dead Kings
Author: Dan jones
Illustrator: David Wardle
Publisher: Head of Zeus
Genre: Historical fiction, Short stories, Fantasy – supernatural
Book format: Digital (pre-publication copy)
Description: One winter, in the dark days of King Richard II, a tailor was riding home on the road from Gilling to Ampleforth. It was dank, wet and gloomy; he couldn’t wait to get home and sit in front of a blazing fire.
Then, out of nowhere, the tailor is knocked off his horse by a raven, who then transforms into a hideous dog, his mouth writhing with its own innards. The dog issues the tailor with a warning: he must go to a priest and ask for absolution and return to the road, or else there will be consequences…
First recorded in the early fifteenth century by an unknown monk, The Tale of the Tailor and the Three Dead Kings was transcribed from the Latin by the great medievalist M.R. James in 1922. Building on that tradition, now bestselling historian Dan Jones retells this medieval ghost story in crisp and creepy prose.
*Free copy provided by publisher for review…
Review: This is a perfectly spooky tale for Halloween. In the late 1300s a tailor named Snowball is on his way home to Ampleforth from Gilling. On his ride home though, he suddenly hears some strange noises coming from a stream. The noise soon starts to enter his head before showing itself to be a terrifying raven that looks half dead. With his horse spooked and darkness surrounding him, Snowball encounters more than just the raven, he encounters a spirit, one who gives him a task he cannot refuse.
I was really excited when I first heard about this book. Based on real accounts that were written by an unknown monk in at Byland Abbey in late the 14thor early 15th century, which contained spooky supernatural encounters that the local people believed to have had at the time, this book contains one of these tales, an encounter that a tailor with the surname Snowball had on his way home one night from Gilling to Ampleforth. The book contains both the original story, which has been retold and embellished a little, and is accompanied by an interesting introduction to how the author found out about these stories, as well as more at the end of the book.
The story itself is quite short, but is truly spooky. I’ve always been fascinated with medieval times and the things people feared, but the encounters that Snowball has with a spirit is quite terrifying. The beginning instantly sets the mood and the creepy atmosphere of this tale and it isn’t long before we read about the scary spirit that Snowball encounters and what it wants him to do. I won’t spoil the story as it is quite short but the tale was good and I found myself so engrossed in it until the ending which, unfortunately, was not as good as I had hoped. Though the story itself is based on what was really put into the Byland Abbey records, it does end abruptly and in a way that didn’t make as much sense to me as the rest of the tale, almost as if a page was missing and I was left feeling disappointed that it hadn’t ended in a more exciting way. While the real Byland Abbey account may have ended in this way, I couldn’t help but wish that the author had done more for his retelling. He does mention in his introduction that he did add a little to the story, but I do think that given how flat and abrupt the ending is, that maybe he could have embellished the ending more for modern readers.
After the introduction and the story itself there are notes about the real Byland Abbey in Yorkshire and also the original Latin version of the tale, as it was recorded by a monk. Although probably most people reading this may not be able to read the Latin, like me, it is worth scrolling through these pages as there are notes made in English which help to make more sense of the story including information on why certain names are left blank in the text. The book also features some medieval style illustrations at the start of each chapter which were nice to see as well as a picture of the original Latin version as it was scrawled onto by the monk, which I liked. While the descriptions in the story are a little spooky, it’s not too terrifying for most readers. There’s nothing really offensive just a few slightly more creepy descriptions of the spirits Snowball encounters.
This is a short book which I managed to finish in just over an hour so the story itself isn’t too long. The tale itself is really good and I just love the fact that this is based on an account that someone in the past believed had happened. While the story and the information about the Abbey was interesting, I couldn’t help but be disappointed with the ending, and given how short this book is (at less 100 pages) I just felt like I wanted more which is why I’ve marked it down in my rating. Maybe if the other eleven Byland Abbey supernatural tales had been included which the monk had origianally written, even though they are apparently shorter than this one, it would have felt like a more satisfying read, but this book on its own just feel too short and I just wanted there to be more.
What do you think of this book? Do you enjoy supernatural stories or stories based on real accounts? Let me know what you think in the comments below 🙂