Book Review – The Turn of Midnight – Minette Walters (Black Death Book 2)

Here’s the blurb;

As the year 1349 approaches, the Black Death continues its devastating course across England. In Dorseteshire, the quarantined people of Develish question whether they are the only survivors.

Guided by their beloved young mistress, Lady Anne, they wait, knowing that when their dwindling stores are finally gone they will have no choice but to leave. But where will they find safety in the desolate wasteland outside?

One man has the courage to find out.

Thaddeus Thurkell, a free-thinking, educated serf, strikes out in search of supplies and news. A compelling leader, he and his companions quickly throw off the shackles of serfdom and set their minds to ensuring Develish’s future – and freedom for its people.

But what use is freedom that cannot be gained lawfully? When Lady Anne and Thaddeus conceive an audacious plan to secure her people’s independence, neither foresees the life-threatening struggle over power, money and religion that follows…

The sequel to The Last Hours continues the story of the people of Develish, Lady Anne and Thurkell in particular, although the younger and older generation aren’t missed.

With the Black Death seemingly on the wane, Thurkell and the five young men who accompany him, are able to move around Dorsetshire with more ease. The bleak aftermath of the plague is never far from them, and the depictions of a deserted landscape are haunting.

The suggestions of social mobility, explored throughout The Last Hours, and by the serfs of Develish, who have long worked in secrecy to buy themselves out of serfdom, are cast into stark relief when Thurkell comes into contact with different demesnes, where the Norman Lords have ruled through the threat of the Church and the whip. Perhaps more than anything, it is this which truly reveals the hierarchical society of the time and the fear with which serfs were ruled. The ideas, conveyed against the more common sense approach of those from Develish, that even when starving the men and women of different demesnes are too fearful to eat food that is freely available for fear of the wrath of their Lord’s stewards, no doubt dead, even though they’ve tried to outrun the plague, is shocking. Time and again, I felt rage for these fictional characters, who, I hope, are a representation of what the time period was truly like when so many were oppressed.

It is a delight of the novel, that it manages to convey the coming social changes with a skill that never becomes tedious.

The novel, does, unfortunately, fail to maintain the tension of the first book in the series, and the end scenes only truly work because the reader is so desperate for Lady Anne and Thurkell to succeed in their attempts.

That said, this is a deeply satisfying novel, and it was a delight to read.

The Turn of Midnight is now available;

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