Elitist Classic: Speaks the Nightbird
I recently went back to do a re-read of Robert McCammon’s SPEAKS THE NIGHTBIRD (Amazon). Though, I suppose, a “re-listen” is more accurate as I bought the audiobook. It’s been a long time since I read this novel, and with the sixth Matthew Corbett novel, FREEDOM OF THE MASK coming in just a few short months, I wanted to go back to Matthew’s origins as a refresher.
It is incredible how well this novel stands up to multiple reads.
SPEAKS THE NIGHTBIRD follows a young Matthew Corbett as he participates in the trial of Rachel Howarth, who is accused of murder and witchcraft. Th novel channels the fear, suspicion, and paranoia of the Salem witch trials which occurred just six years before the events of this novel. This is before Matthew’s days as a “problem-solver” that we see in QUEEN OF BEDLAM (Amazon) and beyond, and seeing the near-innocent (in adult matters) attitude and world-view Matthew has in NIGHTBIRD is so interesting.
The plot of the novel follows Matthew–and the magistrate he is clerk to–as they listen to witnesses and their damning testimony of Rachel Howarth, and then the subsequent investigation. I cannot state strongly enough how perfectly McCammon captures the irrational fear of these events. From the people living in abject terror, to those seeking to profit from the trial… it’s perfect. The issues of sexism, racism, and intolerance abound in this novel, and are handled with a deft hand.
It’s interesting reading novels set during the colonial times. Lives steeped in such a thick cloud of superstition. The ease at which mob-mentality came into play. What passed for “evidence” in a trial. It straddles the line between fantasy and reality, and ultimately is what make this such an effective Historical Horror novel.
Matthew Corbett is such an amazing character. SPEAKS THE NIGHTBIRD lays all the groundwork for the books that follow in the series, and on a re-read, I could only shake my head in appreciation at the skill in which McCammon presents us this flawed, but good, human being. Matthew’s intelligence, but also his naivete, drive the mystery of whether or not Rachel Howarth is a witch and a murderer.
Of all of Mccammon’s work, SPEAKS THE NIGHTBIRD would be close to the top of the list by way of desired TV adaptations, and I think it would be one of the easiest to pull of with style and accuracy. With the success of The Witch, and other Colonial-based shows, this is a natural fit to ride that wave and improve upon those mediums.
Here is my recommendation: go read this novel. Read it before? No worries, read it again. It absolutely holds up, and will get you excited for FREEDOM OF THE MASK. Haven’t read it before? Oh my goodness. Read it. This is Colonial Gothic Horror at its finest. Make no mistake, SPEAKS THE NIGHTBIRD is a dark, dark novel. In fact I was surprised at just how dark it was upon my re-read. And yet… like all of McCammon’s work, SPEAKS THE NIGHTBIRD is full of tiny moments of humor, and larger moments of hope.
- Recommended Age: 18+
- Language: It gets strong and crass at times, usually due to some of the side-characters.
- Violence: Yes. Some quite gruesome.
- Sex: This is a tale of accused witchcraft, and as such, there are a few scenes described which are pretty shocking. Plus some other, crass talk, and another scene towards the end.
Buy these books. They are incredible.
Note: The audiobook to this is amazing. I highly recommend it. For you audiobook listeners, here is that link: Amazon