With her first full-length novel in 10 years, an award-winning British crime writer launches a series about the Black Death.
In the summer of 1348, Sir Richard of Develish journeys to Bradmayne on business. While he’s away, news reaches Develish of a deadly pestilence. His wife, Lady Anne, brings her serfs within the moat of her manor house and then wisely refuses her husband’s re-entry, fearing he will bring the disease with him. She’s a woman ahead of her time, dismissing as superstition the idea of “a plague sent by God.” Years before, she’d had sewage pits dug well downwind of Develish; other villages didn’t dig any at all. Anne’s compassion for her serfs contrasts sharply with the attitude of her 14-year-old daughter, Eleanor, who hates everyone but her father and likes having serfs whipped. The living conditions in Bradmayne are vile; one might think “Men urinated where they stood” would say it all about a village, but the author spares no detail in showing what grossness causes stench and attracts vermin. People seem not to connect these godawful conditions with the “killing sickness in the village” that carries “a deadly pestilence with putrid boils” and requires the digging of mass graves. Before he succumbs, Sir Richard observes that “In twelve days, the world had changed beyond all recognition.” Yet no one knows how extensive that changed world is. Lady Anne has the serf Thaddeus Thurkell lead a small band of brave serfs to learn how other villages have fared. She is the central figure in this compelling saga in which people are either all virtuous and wise or all the opposite. While the serf Gyles Startout is a man of “courage and generosity,” Lady Eleanor opines how sweet it would be if he dies. As the plague continues at book’s end, Lady Anne still faces a dangerous enemy in her daughter.
Deeply researched and engrossing, this masterful series opener leaves readers hanging—Rats!—so they’ll eagerly await the sequel.