Alice could hardly stand to watch her beloved Uncle Frank be executed, and when she finds out that his head is to be displayed as a warning to future dissenters, she knows that she has to do something. But if there’s one thing more difficult than stealing the head of one of the king’s enemies, it’s hanging on to it. In a desperate race against the king’s soldiers, Alice launches a mission to snatch her uncle’s head and reunite it with his body. Accompanying her is Dan, the local hangman who personally played a part in Frank’s death. Soon, Alice finds herself up against not only the king’s soldiers, but also a young captain that she may or may not be developing feelings for.
With public executions, dismembered heads, and the general unpleasantness of an England long since passed, Grant isn’t afraid to describe some of the more morbid parts of her story—but How the Hangman Lost His Heart doesn’t completely disgust the reader. Her writing style has an air of humor about it that makes the book read much more like a dark Disney film than a C.S.I. episode. Uncle Frank’s head isn’t treated like a barbaric symbol; rather, it takes on a prominent role in the story and is joked about frequently and made light of.
Although the plot is funny and original, I found it difficult to really connect with all of the characters. At times, I felt like I was just reading about them rather than truly feeling what they were feeling. But that isn’t to say they aren’t a likeable crew. Alice, arguably the most prominent of the main characters, is spunky and quick even though she’s a spoiled girl from the countryside who knows little of the world before coming to London. Dan, despite being an executioner, also becomes a likeable character due to his concern for Alice and her safety. Alice and Dan’s relationship is one based on respect and admiration, combined with the simple fact that they become one another’s constant company. It is their two very different roles in society that make their relationship so comical.
Grant has stated that How the Hangman Lost His Heart is based on a true story. Though it’s a bit far-fetched at times, the book paints a quirky and odd portrait of two very different people on a very special mission to get a very dead man, or rather, a part of one, home.
Emily Weaver enjoys museum galleries, wading in streams, and the more-than-occasional episode of anime. She also hopes to travel the world some day.