The novel is set in the fictional Swiss village of Karlstein in 1816. The evil Count Karlstein made a deal with Zamiel, the Demon Huntsman, in order to obtain his current wealth. The condition of the deal was that in ten years' time the huntsman will be presented with a human sacrifice on All Souls's Eve. The count has decided to offer his two young nieces, Lucy and Charlotte.
His plan does not go as smoothly as he would have preferred. Hildi Kelmar, a castle maidservant, overhears his plan to sacrifice Lucy and Charlotte and tries to save them.
The narrative shifts between the perspectives of a panoply of characters, including Hildi, Lucy, Charlotte, the girls' former teacher Miss Augusta Davenport, the inept coachman Max Grindoff, and a police report. Other characters that come to the aid of the girls, willingly or not, are Meister Haifisch, the Count's lawyer; Doctor Cadaverezzi, a fraudulent magician employing Max as an assistant, who takes Lucy in as a part of his act; Eliza, Miss Davenport's helper and Max's lover; Hildi's mother, a tavern owner; and Hildi's brother, Peter, a huntsman hiding from the law.
After hiding the girls, avoiding the Count and his cronies (Arturo Snivelwurst, his cowardly manservant, and Frau Muller, the castle's head servant), and helping several other people, Hildi has no choice but to send her fugitive brother, armed with a single silver bullet, to rescue the girls from the distant hunting cabin. He uses the bullet before encountering Zamiel, but the Demon Huntsman spares the hunter and those he protects, taking the life of Karlstein instead. The following day, Peter wins a shooting contest and the title of Chief Ranger of the Forest, securing his freedom. Meister Haifisch arrives and announces that the true Count Karlstein is in fact the orphaned Max, who weds Eliza and raises Lucy and Charlotte. Finally, Miss Augusta and Doctor Cadaverezzi (whom she knows as Signor Rolipolio), old lovers, reunite and marry.
Philip Pullman (born 1946) is an English writer. He is the best-selling author of His Dark Materials, a trilogy of fantasy novels, and a number of other books.
Pullman was born in Norwich. The family travelled with his RAF pilot father's job, including to Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), where he spent time at school. His father was killed in a plane crash in 1953 when Pullman was seven. His mother remarried and with a move to Australia came Pullman's discovery of comic books including Superman and Batman. From 1957 he was educated at Ysgol Ardudwy school in Wales and spent time in Norfolk with his grandfather, a clergyman. Around this time Pullman discovered John Milton's Paradise Lost, which would ... (more)