Plaguewalker is an interesting exploration in prejudice and social ostracism based on superficial behaviors. Marcus of Ansberg is the Scharfrichter (executioner) of the town he lives in, and as such, he is not allowed to hunt, live with others, walk through the marketplace without his black and hot executioner’s mask on. What is his right is torture for information, execution, and running the town’s brothels. Several whores live with him, including one, Elise, who is the mother of Marcus’ daughter, Sabine.
Initially, I found Marcus dry and shallow – and I assumed he would be a stereotypical dark and brooding main character, but a dull one. And he fit that description rather well, especially as his internal dialogue was perfunctory and without much emotion.
However, as the story progressed, I found his character peeling back layers and showcasing a bit more…empathy is too strong a word, but emotional exhibition. He didn’t showcase his emotions through expressiveness, but rather, through thought and simple behaviors, like burying the bodies of the whores (one can argue he did this out of necessity but I do think he did it partly out of some level of respect for the dead).
As the story progresses, Marcus grew on me. Not so much as someone I’d want to become friends with, but more as a study in human character. He develops fatherly concern towards his lost daughter, whom he goes through trouble to find, and to a young girl, Brenna, who he picks up on his journey to find Sabine.
The story was a bit slow, but it did showcase overt and background prejudice, a la the burning of the Jewish Quarter, hatred towards executioners and whores, and blame spread as the Black Plague sweeps through towns. I did find these story elements rather cliche, however, as much as prejudice is distasteful. I’d have preferred the author to come up with more ideas of how prejudice was apparent in that society, and how it affected characters on a more personal level.
All in all, I found the writing to be as dispassionate and removed as Marcus, with touches of emotionality involved. Perhaps that is simply the author’s voice, or perhaps that is the voice she explicitly chose because it matched Marcus’ personality. Regardless, the story was too shallow and relied on too many character and narrative cliches for me to enjoy it fully.
One thing I didn’t quite understand was that several times in the book, it was mentioned that his daughter had feet large for a girl. I thought this “clue” would mean something later on in the book, but it wasn’t really used for anything obvious. The best I can guess is that you’re to take it to mean that she is strong and can manage her way through life.
I did greatly enjoy the overall rooting for the villain (Marcus), though, and think more books should explore that theme.
Favorite quotes from Plaguewalker:
The town belongs to ghosts now.
So, I am home again. Or in hell. Perhaps both.
She need not be anxious. I am not what I was.