The Western Wind is a historical fiction novel by Samantha Harvey. It is Harvey’s fourth novel, comes in at 304 pages, and was first published by Vintage on February 28th 2019.
I was kindly #GIFTED and eARC of this novel by the publishers via NetGalley, but all opinions, as always, are my own.
This review is SPOILER FREE.
Set during the 15th century the novel takes place in the tiny village of Oakham after the death by drowning of one of the residents. We follow the town’s priest, John Reve, as he takes confession over the course of the day in the hopes of learning more about this unfortunate death.
So, what did I think of The Western Wind?
Well, as a historical fiction novel I thought it did a great job of making you feel right at home in this time period. As fas as I can remember I don’t think I have read historical fiction from this period before, though I have read fiction written in the 15th century. It was surprisingly easy to feel right at home there, and the writing, in that sense, felt very natural with a nice flow.
In regards to genre, I have seen some class it as a mystery, it is not a mystery, and if you go into the book believing this, then you will be disappointed. The narrative, told in a non-linear manner, is manipulated to keep certain facts from the reader, our protagonist, however, is aware of these facts from the beginning. Therefore, Reve has no mystery to uncover. The Western Wind is a perfectly fine historical fiction novel, but I could never call it a mystery novel, but it does not need to be the latter either.
What did I love about the book?
Over the past year, or maybe even longer I have found a love for small self-contained stories. Now, this does not mean short stories, but rather stories that take place in a limited location, and focuses on very few characters. This is a recipe for a lovely character based novel, and this book falls very much into that category. The village of Oakham is small and rural, and while there are a fair few residents, the location does such a good job of containment it at no point feels as though you’re being bombarded with loads of people.
My favourite parts were set in Reve’s confessions booth, as I though this was a fascinating way to learn about his parishioners and also about the dead man. In fact, if I were Harvey I would have set the whole thing in that booth. Notice, I was not kidding about contained locations, the smaller the better in my opinion. Of course, I’m not Harvey, And I’m sure others were glad to be able to see the village a little more.
I thought as a protagonist Reve was great, up until the final quarter of the book. This was the point where you begin to learn the circumstances surrounding the death, and then I was just a bit frustrated with him. Prior to that, having a priest as your protagonist was such a fun idea, reminiscent of Father Brown or Sydney Chambers. His character was not off putting, and in fact his religious devotion was presented in a much more human way.
But, there were some problems…
I’ve already mentioned the issue of genre. Admittedly I may have been wrong in thinking it was mystery at all, but if you see it as being marked as a mystery novel, it is a lie. There are mysterious circumstances, but they’re mysterious to the reader not to the characters.
Also, as I mentioned before I received an eARC of this book, so this could be entirely down the formatting, but I really struggled with keeping the timeline straight in my head. It was not linear, and the formatting did not help to make this clear. You may be reading the finished copy, and think that I am talking nonsense, but it was very distracting. I am greatful to relive an ARC at all, and thank Vintage, but it was something that impaired my reading experience, and felt I had to mention.
The Western Wind is available right now, in all the usual places.
What about you? Have you read or would you like to read The Western Wind? What’s your favourite historical fiction novels? Let me know in the comments!