Saturday, July 29, 2017

The Beggar King (Hangman's Daughter #3)

There's this face that I make when I'm frustrated that makes me (alas!) resemble my aunt. If you knew my aunt, you'd understand why I hate catching myself making this face. I believe in literature an author might describe it as a "thin-lipped grimace." Basically, I suck my lips in, flatten them out, and look a bit like a frog.


I'll be very surprised if my face isn't frozen that way (or if I don't get any new wrinkles) from a near-constant presence of the expression on my face as I read the third book in the Hangman's Daughter series, The Beggar King. While I quite enjoyed the first entry in the series, I was disappointed by the second, The Dark Monk. Goodreads almost unanimously (it's a miracle!) agrees that this third book is the weakest of the series, and it gets better from here. Hmm. It's a good thing I can get them on Kindle Unlimited and not clog up my library card with checkouts of books that make me cranky.


Because of course I'm going to read the next one. I'll either be pleasantly surprised or have a hefty dose of schadenfreude (can you have schadenfreude about a thing and not a person?) that indeed, I was right, and the book is not good.

But tearing myself away from these prognostications, let's talk about The Beggar King. There's a tag I use here on the blog and on my Goodreads shelves called "tstl." It stands for "too stupid to live," and it was relatively popular a few years ago in bloglandia and on Tumblr. Basically, this would apply to any character who repeatedly makes asinine decisions, has no clue what they are doing, but still ends up getting the guy/girl, being the Chosen One, and saving the kingdom (or its equivalent). In defiance of every law of nature, the characters in The Beggar King almost religiously do stupid things but are saved at the last second or escape unharmed because of sheer luck. And I got so angry at them that I wished they had failed. Add to that a conclusion that rushes up at you like a car in the Daytona 500, and, well... I'm grumpy.

Brief rundown if you haven't read the series before: Jakob Kuisl is the hangman in Schongau, Bavaria, in 1666(ish). Being the hangman is a very important job, and it encompasses a lot more than just, well, hanging. Kuisl is also a skilled apothecary with a keen mind and a sense of justice. You have to be good at healing if you're going to keep tortured prisoners alive long enough to kill them (this is one of those ideas that makes little sense, but when confronted with an angry mob demanding blood, eh. I get it). However, being the town hangman also means that he has been cast out of society. Considered unclean by the villagers, the Kuisls operate on the outskirts of the village. Someone so intimately connected with death is not allowed within the so-called safety of the town, despite the fact that the townspeople are the ones plotting and murdering each other. Ahh, hypocrisy.

Kuisl's eldest child, Magdalena, is a headstrong, intelligent young woman who assists her father with cases and studies healing under the local midwife. She is (rather inexplicably) in love with the local medicus, Simon Fronwieser. Having failed out of university for having too much fun and doing too little work, Simon has returned to Schongau, where his drunkard of a father is the local doctor. However, being inebriated has impacted the elder Fronweiser's availability to do actual doctoring, so Simon fills in for him. Simon is also a petulant, childish, self-centered, vain idiot who is self-conscious about his height and protective of his Van Dyke beard.

In case you didn't notice, I do not like Simon and I think Magdalena could do a lot better. We have, of course, romantic tension because Magdalena is only allowed to marry another hangman due to her outsider status. How do you think that turns out? Indeed.

In this installment of the series, Jakob heads off to Regensburg, a large city up the river where his sister lives. He has received word that she is seriously ill, and he is a better healer than most doctors. While on the perilous river journey, he feels as if he's being watched, and the odd-looking man on the raft seems familiar, but Jakob can't quite place him.

*Blogger's interjection* This is a load of horse dung. Jakob is quick-witted and clever, and I should think he would be able to recognize someone, even if it's from twenty years ago. Obviously, we, the readers, know it's someone from his stint as a mercenary in the Hundred Years' War  EDIT: oy, I mean the Thirty Years' War--it's very inconvenient to remember world history while exhausted--from the unsubtle flashbacks, but even so, if Kuisl is as smart as we are supposed to believe, he'd know. This is a silly, flimsy plot contrivance to keep the book lagging on for about five hundred pages.

Meanwhile, back in Schongau, Magdalena tries to help a servant girl who was impregnated by her master and given a lethal dose of ergot to abort the baby. Evidently people knew that the funky mold that grows on grain will induce an abortion, but that it also makes you hallucinate. Magdalena's castigation of the burgher who impregnated his servant leads to a full-on witch hunt, complete with torches. Knowing they can never be together in Schongau (place one hand on forehead and swoon dramatically ... very good), the couple runs away to Regensburg where Jakob Kuisl has been imprisoned for the murder of his sister and brother-in-law.

Whoops.

After arriving in the city and immediately being tossed in the pokey, Kuisl finally arrived at his sister's bathhouse to find them both dead and the law oddly close nearby. He is accused of their murders and thrown in prison, facing torture by the Regensburg hangman, who, like Kuisl, is a nice guy just doing his job. During the (very uncomfortable to read) torture, one of the three magistrates overseeing the torture clearly wants to make Kuisl suffer, not just confess. This bothers the Regensburg hangman, who decides that Kuisl is actually a stand-up guy who has been wronged, and smuggles him out of prison in the garbage cart. If it had been a laundry cart, I'm unsure whether I would have laughed at the author's audacity or sighed because no one did laundry like that in 1666. Jakob, who has many broken and crushed bones and a shoulder out of its socket, is stashed in a whorehouse because it's not like the hypocritical city magistrates would come and buy the attentions of whores, right?

Yeah, so that plan is bad.

Meanwhile, Magdalena and Herr Medicus Whinypants find out that *gasp!* dear old dad is in prison, and they must save him! Unfortunately, the authorities are looking for them as well, especially after a bungled burglary of the abandoned bathhouse. But fear not! There is a very short, very drammatico Venetian dignitary slumming it at their inn, and he fascinates Magdalena and makes Simon get all pouty and possessive. The two bounce around from the Venetian to the head raftsman (who is secretly a sort of proto-socialist?) to the titular Beggar King, who lives in the tunnels beneath the city with the entire population of the city's mendicants. Simon ends up in a large cage suspended above the city because the constabulary think he's drunk, and Magdalena plays dress-up and goes to a fancy ball with the Venetian ambassador.

I promise that this reflects the actual disjointed nature of the story and not my sleepy brain. Things are completely all over the place.

Everyone makes stunningly bad decisions, like when Jakob decides to spy on his tormentor in the whorehouse despite having a raging fever and broken bones. If he had stayed put, he would have been physically rested and able to pursue the magistrate at a later time. But noooooo. That makes too much sense. Instead, he charges out, gets caught, and then has to flee for his life (again). How very tedious.

The bad guys were pretty easy to spot, especially with the prologue acting like a giant neon arrow pointing to Kuisl's past in the military.

And then there was the ending. The Kuisls and their attendant medicus sycophant make their way back to Schongau, where the head town honcho pardons all of them for everything (Jakob for deserting his post, Magdalena for standing up to the lascivious town baker, Simon for being a twit) because the plague has come to Bavaria and conveniently killed their enemies, viz. the baker and Simon's drunkard vater. Now Simon and Magdalena can get married yay! Huzzah! I am so utterly unexcited!

Rating: 1 very mind-numbing slog, not for the faint of stomach or for anyone who liked the first two books in the series. I think I have actually put myself to sleep writing this review, so I'm going to stop rambling now.








2 comments:

  1. The Hundred Years War between England and France ended around 200 years before this novel - how could Jakob have been fighting in it, even as a mercenary? And by the way, who was the guy on the boat and why was Jakob set up? You've told us everything else about the book! ;-)

    Personally, if I don't enjoy a book, I don't bother reading the next in the series. Why waste good reading time on it when there's amazing stuff to read?

    Of Doctors And Regeneration: Some Silly Thoughts

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    1. I'm dying at my own silliness: it's the rather shorter Thirty Years war!

      The guy on the boat was one half of a raping and pillaging duo that Jakob set on fire (????) but he totally survived but he's really melted. His angry brother set Jakob up for everything, and the Venetian guy is part of a plot to poison Regensburg with ergot so they can like ... kill the rulers and stuff.

      ???????

      I am reading the next one, but it's a free audiobook, and it puts me to sleep very quickly each night, so there is some use for it. :) I just won't remember a thing.

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