I picked this novel up back in November 2012, and as is usually the case, I’m sad I didn’t read it sooner. I enjoyed Brooks’ March, but apparently not enough to buy and read the rest of her works immediately. Check out the synopsis here (Amazon link).
Zombies may be all the rage these days, but plague has been around and written about for so much longer. Zombies, according to Wikipedia at least, didn’t appear in popular culture until the 1800s, whereas plague has been a stark reality off-and-on since the 1300s.
Now imagine three hundred years after the Black Death ravaged Europe, you live in a small village with fewer than 500 people in central England. In less than a year more than 2/3 of the people were dead and you were one of the survivors to witness this and all of it is because of the plague. What would you do? How would you respond? Well this is that villages tale and the flashback to what happened in this “plague village,” and it is not the only one.
Brooks’ writing pulls you into the story and her characters keep you firmly entrenched. By opening in medias res with only a brief glimpse at the survivors and then plunging you into the year of the plague, Brooks guarantees you will want to know how (and why) the few characters you meet survived.
There were a few plot twists, one of which I guessed pretty early on, but a second plot twist related to the first I did not guess until the page it happened when you were supposed to see it at the same time as the characters. Brooks chose not to focus on the numerous deaths, but instead on a core group of survivors and when they sicken, or not as the case may be, you immediately begin to question when and your anticipation builds.
As invested as I was in the characters, I wasn’t emotionally drained as I often am when I read books and I wonder if that is a result of Brooks’ talent. The book opens and the protagonist, Anna, speaks of the current resident’s emotionless trance. She speaks of how they are all numbed to death and in a way, as the novel progresses the reader as well becomes deadened to it.
Thankfully, at the end of the novel, again after a few “WTF” moments, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. I won’t say what it is but it was a bit expected and welcome honestly.
Recommendation: It’s a fascinating take on a recurrence of one of the darkest moments in European history. The novel made me want to find out even more about the “plague village” and that is a sign that a writer has used her source material excellently. I have one last book by Brooks on my shelf, People of the Book, and I will most definitely shift that higher in my to-be-read pile.
Opening Line: “I used to love this season.”
Closing Line: “Elinor clasps the other, and together we plunge into the jostling swarm of our city.” (Whited out.)