Welcome to a weekly post, Throwback Thursday. This weekly book review post is a way to share some old favourites, books that were published over a year ago and most importantly those books that have been languishing on the to be read pile for far too long!
For most, the Black Death is the end. For a brave few, it heralds a new beginning.
When the Black Death enters England through the port of Melcombe in Dorseteshire in June 1348, no one knows what manner of sickness it is or how it spreads and kills so quickly.
The Church proclaims it a punishment from God but Lady Anne of Develish has different ideas. With her brutal husband absent, she decides on more sensible ways to protect her people than the daily confessions of sin recommended by the Bishop. Anne gathers her serfs within the gates of Develish and refuses entry to outsiders, even to her husband.
She makes an enemy of her daughter by doing so, but her resolve is strengthened by the support of her leading serfs… until food stocks run low and the nerves of all are tested by their 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?
Compelling and suspenseful, The Last Hours is a riveting tale of human ingenuity and endurance against the worst pandemic known to history. In Lady Anne of Develish – leader, saviour, heretic – Walters has created her most memorable heroine to date.
Minette Walters is an international bestselling author of crime fiction. Walters has sold over 25 million of her books across the globe and several of her books have been adapted into television serials. After a break from the constant circle of publishing crime novel after crime novel, Walters has turned her hand to historical fiction with a distinct medieval flavour. Set in 1348, The Last Hours provides a fascinating account of the Black Death in the Dorset region of England.
When The Last Hours begins, we learn that the Black Death has just arrived onto the shores of England through the port of Melcombe, which is situated in Dorseteshire. It is the summer of 1348 and this is time where there is absolutely no knowledge of this sickness, or more importantly how to manage this illness. While the Church are quick to label the awful sickness as the work of those who have sinned, Anne, the Lady of Devilish, feels this is not the case. She becomes an active part in keeping the sickness at bay in her own region. Anne isolates herself and those around her from the inflicted. She feels this is the only way to prevent the sickness from reaching the well. While dealing with family issues, such as the absence of her husband and the wrath of her petulant daughter Eleanor, new challenges arise for Lady Anne. She must deal with the collapsing economy, class issues, a lack of food and isolation from the rest of the country. The Last Hours is a book told with merit and gusto. This novel is a superb tribute to the victims and survivours of the Black Death, the worst plague known in human history. From the trials and tribulations of the sickness, courage prevails, through the actions of the heroine of this story, the formidable Lady Anne.
I recently met and listened to the author of The Last Hours, at a book event in Perth. This event gave me a great appetite for the work of Minette Walters, which I am quite embarrassed to say I have not explored yet. It was absolutely riveting to hear this writer’s journey to the publication of this novel, some ten years after she decided to put aside her highly successful crime fiction novels, in place for historical fiction. A story close to home, set in Dorset, provided the inspiration Walters needed to pen her first historical fiction novel. She discovered at nearby port to be the pivotal entry point for the first rumblings of the Black Death in the year 1348. Walters started to compose this novel, which is clearly told with passion and from her writer’s heart. It is a story that you can very clearly see has been itching to get out and to be shared with historical fiction fiends around the world.
What immediately struck me about The Last Hours was the atmosphere and the rich sense of place. I was immediately transported to the summer of 1348, in the Dorset area of Britain, thanks to the talented hands of master storyteller Minette Walters. Through the descriptive prose, the reader is given an access all areas view of life in Britain at this time. We receive a very good picture of the way of life, customs, practices, class issues, gender divisions, religious fractions, tensions and treatment of those who are inflicted by this disease. We also gain a better understanding of life in medieval England. Walters highlights the aftermath of the conquest and how this has impacted on life in England, especially the microcosm of Dorset during this time.
Walters must be applauded for the research techniques she has applied to her first historical fitting outing, it is impressive. It is often hard to balance historical facts within an engaging narrative, but I believe Walters succeeds in her efforts. The Last Hours is consistent pace wise, there are no moments where my attention lagged, this surprised me as it a lengthy book. The factual aspects of the novel are carefully embedded within the compelling narrative, so the heavy historical features never overtake the narrative. This is a testament to the refined storytelling skills of Minette Walters.
An area in which I feel Walters shines are her passages that directly convey to the reader what it would be like to suffer from the Black Death. She also expresses how it would feel to watch on as those around you, your loved ones and fellow community members, perished by this disease, so quickly and horribly. It was hard to stomach at times, learning about the boils, swellings, bodily fluids and rotting elements of this plague. However, in the absence of virtually no prior knowledge of this disease and the history of this perilous time, I am thankful to Minette Walters for filling my gap in knowledge. I feel much more well versed about this turning point in history.
Another aspect that I feel Minette Walters truly shows us her worth is in her presentation of the character of Lady Anne. The Last Hours would not be the masterpiece it is without the presence of Lady Anne. Anne’s character was completely memorable, kind, brave, astute and revolutionary. I very much enjoyed the sequences featuring Anne and her interactions with the other pivotal characters in this novel. It was a joy to share Lady Anne’s journey and although the book did close in the form of a cliff hanger, thankfully I have the sequel immediately on hand!
The Last Hours will provide you with many hours of enjoyment as you submerge yourself in medieval England battling against the Black Death.
**** 4 stars
The Last Hours by Minette Walters was published on 27th September 2017 by Allen & Unwin. Details on how to purchase the book can be found here.
Learn more about the author of The Last Hours, Minette Walters here.
*Book ‘W’ of the a-z author challenge 2018