Saturday, December 27th, 2008
The Short Take:
In all honesty they should have marketed this book as a horror story, not a mystery. When you have nine strangers with deadly secrets thrown into an uneasy alliance as they struggle across England in hopes of avoiding the plague, that’s horror on top of horror. Right? And this one is a doozy.
In the interest of full disclosure, I am predisposed to like books set in the Middle Ages, whether fact or fiction. While this novel has been referred to as historical fiction, no real person from history makes even a cameo appearance. However, you do get an excellent feel for the misery, fear, society, and even the diet of the characters. Maitland creates an atmosphere that is perfect for the dark secrets of this anti-Canterbury Tales party.
While I consider this to be primarily a horror tale, it is rife with mysteries. These secrets are unveiled slowly throughout the book, often with deadly consequences. Maitland kindly drops you hints before making any big revelations so you are “in the know” before everyone in this traveling band learns another shocking truth.
And the shocks do keep coming, right down to the last page. And that’s what makes a great horror story.
A Little Plot:
Nine strangers wind up traveling together in search of a place safe from the plague that is ravaging England: a seller of fake relics, a traveling master musician and his apprentice, an out of work artist and his pregnant lover, an itinerant story teller with a swan’s wing instead of an arm, a woman with healing abilities, a magician with a cart load of mysterious trunks, and an eerie child who sees into the future. An odd bunch by anyone’s definition.
As they try to journey north they encounter dead and dying towns, where desperate residents use desperate means to try and avoid both plague and famine. In addition, the secrets each person harbors brings more travails, suspicions, and disasters. Did I mention the howling wolf haunts them every step of the way?
Oh, yeah, it’s a horror story all right. And I liked it.