Lord Richard has left his estate of Develish in Dorsetshire to see his daughter’s intended and finalise the wedding contract. But before he can return the Black Death enters England.
Unprepared for the virulence of the disease, and the speed with which it spreads, the people of the county start to die in their thousands.
With Lord Richard away, Lady Anne takes control the estate, ordering all two hundred of their bonded serfs to live within the walls and not allowing anyone from the outside in. She asks a bastard slave, Thaddeus Thurkell, to act as her steward. With this sudden overturning of the accepted social order, where serfs exist only to serve their lords, conflicts soon arise. Ignorant of what is happening in the world outside, they wrestle with themselves, with God and with the terrible uncertainty of their futures.
They fear starvation but they fear the pestilence more, someone must leave eventually to discover what has become of the rest of the world and bring back food. But who will have the courage to leave the security of the walls?
I’ve never read Minette Walters before as she has tended to write crime fiction, a genre a read only a couple of books a year in at most. But she has taken to this new genre brilliantly. Life in England in 1348 was evoked as soon as I started reading and I remained stuck solidly in the past until she was ready to spit me out at the end of the book.
The characters took me a little longer to take to, the daughter of Lady Anne and Lord Richard is a spoilt brat intent on making the serfs suffer when we first meet her, and her chosen victim Thaddeus comes across as so surly that it’s hard to feel any sympathy for, Lord Richard is quite frankly revolting and Lady Anne so dour I did wonder if I would make it through the book. However, almost as soon as I’d thought that I saw a glimmer of warmth underneath Lady Anne’s dourness and a flash of hope in Thaddeus’ countenance and soon I was starting to understand the hidden depths of all the characters.
Then the plot started to gather speed and I was hooked. Walters doesn’t shy away from the more gruesome aspects of the plague and, as you’d expect from a successful crime writer, she is adept at building mystery and tension.
My only complaint about this book is the ending. This is the first in a series of books (I’ve no idea if it’ll be a series of 2 or 20) and it ended on a real cliffhanger. I’m not going to lie, I felt robbed and frustrated. Especially s has only just come out so I’ve ages to wait now to know what happens next!
Buy it now by all means, but wait till book two is on its way before you start it!
NB I received a free copy of this book through NetGalley in return for an honest review. The BookEaters always write honest reviews.