I am currently reading my way through a long list of science fiction and fantasy titles. (http://www.npr.org/2011/08/07/138938145/science-fiction-and-fantasy-finalists if you are interested in the list).
When the Black Death enters England through the port in Dorsetshire in June 1348, no one knows what manner of sickness it is—or how it spreads and kills so quickly. The Church cites God as the cause, and fear grips the people as they come to believe that the plague is a punishment for wickedness.
But Lady Anne of Develish has her own ideas. Educated by nuns, Anne is a rarity among women, being both literate and knowledgeable. With her brutal husband absent from the manor when news of this pestilence reaches her, she looks for more sensible ways to protect her people than daily confessions of sin. She decides to bring her serfs inside the safety of the moat that surrounds her manor house, then refuses entry to anyone else, even her husband.
Lady Anne makes an enemy of her daughter and her husband’s steward by doing so, but her resolve is strengthened by the support of her leading serfs...until food stocks run low. The nerves of all are tested by continued confinement and ignorance of what is happening in the world outside. The people of Develish are alive. But for how long? And what will they discover when the time comes for them to cross the moat again?
As historical fantasy goes, this is very much to my taste. How can I resist a tale about a noblewoman resisting the patriarchy of her time, both socially and religiously? Since I’m a firm believer in the worth of education, the importance of literacy, and in the ability to reason well and plan accordingly, this book was perfect for a cold, snowy day where I prefered to hunker indoors rather than venture out into the snow storm.
This is a departure from Walters’ usual genre, that of the mystery, and I found it to be well done. How difficult it must have been to live through the Black Death, wondering how in the world the disease was spread and being given apocalyptic reasons by the all-dominating Catholic Church. How brave must have been the people who dared to dissent, claiming that God was kinder than the Church was willing to acknowledge? Those who decided that God could not have anything to do with the pandemic.
Some readers may find that the attitudes displayed by Lady Anne and Thaddeus Thurkell to be too modern for the tale. I struggled with that briefly, but got caught up in the story and abandoned my reservations early on. If we are going to enjoy historical fantasy, why not give the characters motivations that modern readers can identify with?
If you enjoy this book, may I also recommend to you Connie Willis’ Doomsday Book and C.C. Humphrey’s Plague.