READING GROUP GUIDE: The Raven’s Head by Karen Maitland

Article published on September 2, 2015.

Vincent is an apprentice librarian who stumbles upon a secret powerful enough to destroy his master. With the foolish arrogance of youth, he attempts blackmail but the attempt fails and Vincent finds himself on the run and in possession of an intricately carved silver raven’s head.

Any attempt to sell the head fails … until Vincent tries to palm it off on the intimidating Lord Sylvain – unbeknown to Vincent, a powerful Alchemist with an all-consuming quest. Once more Vincent’s life is in danger because Sylvain and his neighbours, the menacing White Canons, consider him a predestined sacrifice in their shocking experiment.

Read an extract


Reading Group Guide

  • ‘These heavenly bodies govern the health and fortunes of the meanest beggars and greatest nations alike’. What is the significance of the astrological houses that precede particular chapters?
  • One day you will learn there is far more to be afraid of in this world than what lies beneath here’.What did you make of Regulus’s first descent into the cellar? How was your understanding of the canons’ work shaped by what he sees?
  • Throughout the novel we see several instances of the raven apparently intervening when Vincent runs into trouble. Is Lugh a talisman or a curse?
  • ‘There are evils in this world far worse than death’. Can you sympathise with Sylvain or is his role in the pursuit of eternal life wholly condemnable?
  • How much of what happens to Gisa, Vincent and Regulus can be attributed to naivety and inexperience? In contrast, how does knowledge and learning frame the actions of Father Arthmael and Lord Sylvain?
  • Through time paradoxes, nightmarish visions and hints of the supernatural,Karen Maitland plays on the fine line between illusion and reality. Discuss the relationship between science and the fantastic in the novel.
  • ‘This is a true and faithful account’. There are many stories told in the novel that overwrite truths or become a form of currency. Is the idea of ‘truth’ important? What relevance does it have in our world today?
  • In the aftermath of the fire, Vincent is adamant that the ‘effigy’ must have been destroyed. Do you believe him? Why?
  • She is her mother’s daughter, Isolda’s blood, my blood’. Discuss the role of fate in the novel. Is Gisa truly like Sylvain? As she leaves Langley with Vincent and Regulus, to what extent are their futures predetermined?
Save your own copy for group discussions here.
The Raven’s Head by Karen Maitland, published by Headline Review on 27 August, 2015


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