In 1384, the Black Plague entered England. By the time it ran its course, the Plague would kill one third to one half of all people in Europe. Most people of the time saw it as an act of God, a punishment for who knew what. They had no idea what it was, how it was spread, or how to stop it.
The loutish, brutal Sir Richard of Develish rides off to cement a marriage proposal between his 14 year old daughter Eleanor and the son of another Norman lord, and finds illness at the demesne. At the urging of one of his serfs, they head for home, but on the way, Sir Richard becomes ill. The news of the illness has already reached his wife, Lady Anne, and she, convent educated and conversant in healing, has brought all the Develish serfs into the moated area and destroyed the bridge. Ahead of her time in her ideas, she refuses to take the chance that Sir Richard will bring the illness with him. Of the group who went on the errand, only one avoids the illness and survives- and it’s not Richard.
No one in the moated area comes down with the disease, but with 200 people inside, plus animals, their food supplies dwindle quickly. How long do they need to stay cooped up? Tempers flaring as the weeks go by; one of the worst is Eleanor. She is spoiled and snotty and resents the serfs who are now sharing the castle. It turns out she has reason to be unhappy, but she was over the top with her nastiness to others. Then to add to the stresses, a teenaged boy is murdered.
I found this book fascinating to read; there is a LOT of historical details. I felt like I was immersed in the time and place. The story does move very slowly, though, and Lady Anne seems like an anachronism with her advanced theories on health care, women’s rights, and the equality of serfs. It would have benefited from a cast of characters- there are so many that I had trouble keeping them sorted out, at least early in the book. And the ending was a shock- to be continued! No loose ends tied up! I wish I’d known ahead of time it was a series. Four stars and I’m looking forward to the next book in the series.
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