Welcome to my stop on the The Tale of the Tailor and the Three Dead Kings blog tour! Huge thanks to Head of Zeus for giving me the opportunity to take part in this! I was provided a copy of the novel in exchange for an honest review.
Publisher: Head of Zeus
Publication Date: 14/10/2021
Length: 96 pages
Genre: Historical Fiction | Gothic Horror
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.GoodReads
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.
Ghost stories have been told throughout the centuries, and whilst many may not have quite the same impact on a modern audience than on its contemporary one, there are some that can still evoke fear and unease even all this time later. The Tale of the Tailor and the Three Dead Kings, retold by Dan Jones, is one that still stands the test of time with some gruesome imagery that I’m still thinking about even now (I’m not sure I’ll be able to look at goats in the same way ever again).
Jones has done everything he can to preserve the original text whilst retelling it for the modern reader. Whilst no longer in Latin, the tale still retains the nuances of the 15th Century English language, which I really enjoyed as sometimes in retellings the language can be a little too modern which is very jarring against the tale itself. Jones brilliantly captures the gloomy and unsettling atmosphere from the opening paragraphs which immediately had me invested and on edge. Even though this is, ultimately, a dark tale of a tortured soul there are still elements of humour that feels very in keeping with the time that it was written which was great to see. It was also a nice touch to keep the names of particular people redacted as, to me, it gives more weight to the story’s ‘truth’ that it tries to protect certain people within it.
The story itself is only around 60 pages long with the whole book coming in at below 100 pages, as well as the story we have an introduction from Jones, a brief note on Byland Abbey as well as the original Latin text edited and annotated by M.R. James back in the 1920s. All encased in a beautifully small hardback with wonderful illustrations from David Wardle, all of which definitely makes it worth picking up a physical copy of the book. Even the way the text itself is set on the page feels very much like an older text and is, again, another example of how much work has gone into preserving the original text as much as possible but still have it readable for a modern reader.
Overall, I’m very impressed with the retelling as well as the physical book itself. It’s a great little edition that would be a must have on shelves of gothic horror fans and historical fans alike. I hope we see more of these kinds of books in the future to keep a lot of old folktales alive which are in danger of being forgotten.
About the Author
Dan Jones is a historian, broadcaster and award-winning journalist. His books, including The Templars, Crusaders and, with Marina Amaral, The Colour of Time and The World Aflame, have sold more than one million copies worldwide. He has written and hosted dozens of TV shows including the acclaimed Netflix/Channel 5 series, Secrets of Great British Castles. His writing has appeared in newspapers and magazines including the London Evening Standard, Sunday Times, Daily Telegraph, Wall Street Journal, GQ and the Spectator.