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review 2019-10-02 22:28
The Last Hours / Minette Walters
The Last Hours - Minette Walters

When the Black Death enters England through the port in Dorsetshire in June 1348, no one knows what manner of sickness it is—or how it spreads and kills so quickly. The Church cites God as the cause, and fear grips the people as they come to believe that the plague is a punishment for wickedness.

But Lady Anne of Develish has her own ideas. Educated by nuns, Anne is a rarity among women, being both literate and knowledgeable. With her brutal husband absent from the manor when news of this pestilence reaches her, she looks for more sensible ways to protect her people than daily confessions of sin. She decides to bring her serfs inside the safety of the moat that surrounds her manor house, then refuses entry to anyone else, even her husband.

Lady Anne makes an enemy of her daughter and her husband’s steward by doing so, but her resolve is strengthened by the support of her leading serfs...until food stocks run low. The nerves of all are tested by continued confinement and 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 again?

 

As historical fantasy goes, this is very much to my taste. How can I resist a tale about a noblewoman resisting the patriarchy of her time, both socially and religiously? Since I’m a firm believer in the worth of education, the importance of literacy, and in the ability to reason well and plan accordingly, this book was perfect for a cold, snowy day where I prefered to hunker indoors rather than venture out into the snow storm.

This is a departure from Walters’ usual genre, that of the mystery, and I found it to be well done. How difficult it must have been to live through the Black Death, wondering how in the world the disease was spread and being given apocalyptic reasons by the all-dominating Catholic Church. How brave must have been the people who dared to dissent, claiming that God was kinder than the Church was willing to acknowledge? Those who decided that God could not have anything to do with the pandemic.

Some readers may find that the attitudes displayed by Lady Anne and Thaddeus Thurkell to be too modern for the tale. I struggled with that briefly, but got caught up in the story and abandoned my reservations early on. If we are going to enjoy historical fantasy, why not give the characters motivations that modern readers can identify with?

If you enjoy this book, may I also recommend to you Connie Willis’ Doomsday Book and C.C. Humphrey’s Plague.

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review 2019-03-16 21:06
Local Bookclub read
The Last Hours - Minette Walters
Walters’ historical novel is a stunning look at how people reacted when the Black Death came to town. Or came to country and tried to come to town, but you burned down the bridge and kept away anyone who looked sick.

There is historic precedent for a similar story – see the village of Eyam in Derbyshire.
In terms of the fear of people living at the time, Walters does a very good job. The change in society – the rebellion of the serfs – is well played as well.

However, the characters are either good or evil, with no real in between. For instance, there is Lady Anne, who might be a bit more educated and opened minded than women of the time usually were, but Walters gives her a believable back story. Yet, she is too perfect while her husband is too evil. Anne’s reactions and ability to foretell how the ending confrontation would play are true, and not surprising, but one does want her to be wrong, to not be so perfect and modern in her political thoughts.

Furthermore, Lady Anne is the only good woman of note (a woman who has more than a handful of lines). Most of the other movers and shakers are men. The only other woman who has more than a handful of lines, is the villain of the story. Whereas with the men you have several who perform heroic roles. While this, at least in the terms of movement of events, might be historical true, it does make the novel a bit uneven in character usage.

Yet, the setting and fear are stunningly conveyed in the story.
 
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review 2018-09-02 14:10
The Last Hours - Minette Walters 
The Last Hours - Minette Walters

The first outbreaks of the Black Death in Dorset. There is crime and secrets and lies, but this is counterbalanced by great kindness and cooperation and thought. You wouldn't think it could be a hopeful kind of book, but even as the plague strikes so swiftly with such high mortality, it does free up all the wealth and power that was gathered into so few hands.

 

Now I just have to wait for the story to be continued.

 

It's situations like this that make me reluctant to start a series until it's all written

 

Library copy

 

Edited to add, 9/2/18:  I often give authors of fiction about plagues a hard time for giving their imagined diseases an easy transmission, an incredibly high mortality rate, and a very brief latency: these three ratios all being very high means an infection will burn out in a population too quickly to spread. Even the worst plagues in naive populations don't score high on all three. They also tend to avoid people getting ill and recovering, which some portion of the population usually does. Most fiction wrlters avoid the importance of hygiene and sanitation and supportive care: they have everyone dying from the primary disease directly rather than address indirect mortality. I've encountered more than a few books that use 99.99% in order to decrease the surplus population. I mention this because I can only think of two writers who don't cheat that way: Connie Willis and now Minette Walters. If you want realistic plagues, these are the women to read.

 

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text 2018-08-28 14:31
Good and Bad Decisions
The Last Hours - Minette Walters

It was wise of me to pick my fattest book for my pre-read. But it was also a really good one, and I was eager to see what happened next, and I had a lot of free time this weekend to spend on the sofa with cats and family, reading away. So now it's done, and I 've got that book hangover where I don't want to go back to the books I was supposed to be reading to clear the shelves for September 1st.

 

And also it's going to be harder to update and post my spreadsheet from my phone.

 

Bother 

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text 2018-08-26 16:38
And We're Off...
The Last Hours - Minette Walters

Oh the thrill of choosing a book from my Bingo stack! The heady rush of getting to start right away. Then comes the agonizing choice and hours of back and forth. Finally I settle on what I most want to read at home on the weekend rather than lug on the commute, and Minette Walters weighs in the lead clearly. Then, consternation. This bool, unlike all her other books is not all psychological insight into the way a contemporary community reacts to crime. Historical fiction about the Black Death, yes, of course, and the first of a planned three? No doubt every one heard my delighted squeals. At 116 of 537 pages I'm hooked. Later I'll pick a square for it (of course, filling my free square first seems like a awful strategy ).

 

 

Page 206: the first plot twist: there is a murder. Walters came through for me.

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