What’s it all about?:
Oswald de Lacy was never meant to be the Lord of Somerhill Manor. Despatched to a monastery at the age of seven, sent back at seventeen when his father and two older brothers are killed by the Plague, Oswald has no experience of running an estate. He finds the years of pestilence and neglect have changed the old place dramatically, not to mention the attitude of the surviving peasants.
Yet some things never change. Oswald’s mother remains the powerful matriarch of the family, and his sister Clemence simmers in the background, dangerous and unmarried.
Before he can do anything, Oswald is confronted by the shocking death of a young woman, Alison Starvecrow. The ambitious village priest claims that Alison was killed by a band of demonic dog-headed men. Oswald is certain this is nonsense, but proving it by finding the real murderer is quite a different matter. Every step he takes seems to lead Oswald deeper into a dark maze of political intrigue, family secrets and violent strife.
And then the body of another girl is found.
What did I think?:
First of all, many thanks Love Reading UK and Hodder & Stoughton for giving me the opportunity to read this intriguing debut novel in exchange for an honest review. S D Sykes delves into the realm of medieval fiction and takes the reader back to the 14th Century, where the bubonic plague or “Black Death” had swept England with horrific consequences leaving many dead – in some accounts, up to one third of Europe’s entire population. Oswald de Lacy is preparing to take holy orders but when the plague strikes, claiming his father and brothers as its victims, Oswald is sent back to his home very reluctantly to take his position as Lord of Somerhill Manor.
Oswald was never prepared to be Lord – after all, he had two older brothers, but at the tender age of seventeen must take command as trouble is brewing and his people are looking to him for decisions, leadership and comfort. A young girl has been brutally murdered and the local priest, Cornwall, who has a lot of sway over the local villagers is insisting that she has been killed by demons with the heads of dogs. Oswald is a sensible man and does not believe in the existence of such creatures but understands the superstitious worries of the peasants and is determined to solve the mystery and ease the fears of his people. When a second girl’s body is found, Oswald realises he has become part of a dark and grisly puzzle that he must get to the bottom of. Yet is he fully prepared for what he may unearth?
S D Sykes writes a compelling piece of historical fiction that takes the reader back to a different time where you can experience the 14th Century in all its unadulterated glory. It is obvious how much research the author has carried out to convey this period of time so distinctly and I loved being part of Oswald’s journey as he tried to solve the mystery. I have to admit, I wasn’t sure about his character at first as he appeared a bit too reluctant to assume his position but he acts just as a seventeen year old apprentice monk would do if his whole world was turned upside down, I suppose! The author also writes some fantastic “love to hate” characters such as Oswald’s mother and sister, whom I just wanted to shake at times and the intriguing and pompous priest Cornwall. Many characters are not what they seem and the ending reveals a wealth of secrets that I certainly wasn’t expecting. As a debut novel and a work of historical/medieval fiction this is a fascinating read that I think fans of Karen Maitland will enjoy and I look forward to seeing what this author does next.
Plague Land is out in hardback now and available in paperback from 21st May 2015 from all good book retailers.
Would I recommend it?:
But of course!
Star rating (out of 5):