At the onset of the black plague in 1348, a group of travellers band together to seek refuge against the disease and journey to a safe location. Each member of the group has a hidden secret and one, in particular, has something more sinister to conceal. The secrets they each reveal are shocking and illustrate the type of characters they are and the backgrounds they each come from. Karen has a wonderful ability to capture not only the characterisation but the interaction and underlying motives within the group. As each secret is revealed one by one the group start dying. Must the killer be amongst them or are they being hunted? The final secret is a surprise and keeps you guessing right to the end.
The plot is engrossing and holds you in a spell, the characters are superb, and the pace is perfect. The sense of time and its hardships are brought to life, and the writing creates such magnificent images of landscape, hardships and a constant atmosphere of foreboding. Karen has this wonderful ability to characterise the landscape and give it its own mesmerising role in the story.
The Black Plague between 1348 and 1350 would kill over 1.5 million people, over one-third of the population of England. Amongst this great plague was set a supernatural and religious supposition. One graphic testimony can be found at St Mary’s, Ashwell, Hertfordshire, where an anonymous hand has carved a harrowing inscription for the year 1349: ‘Wretched, terrible, destructive year, the remnants of the people alone remain.’
It’s just a pity that a novel like this comes to an end, and the only thing left to do is seek out another Karen Maitland book. She is definitely the queen of the medieval historical thriller. This book is well and truly rooted in my favourites shelf and Karen is one of my favourite authors.