The good: Fantastic story, fantastic characters.
The not-so-good: Sounds like this is the end of the series.
Why I chose it: I loved The Last Hours – thank you to Allen & Unwin for the copy.
Publisher: Allen & Unwin
Setting: Dorseteshire, England
Rating: 10 out of 10
One of my favourite books of 2017 was Minette Walters’ The Last Hours, an engrossing story of the Black Death in England. (Before you start to wonder, yes it’s THAT Minette Walters of spooky crime novels.) The novel was a meticulously researched novel that brought the 1300s to life with a rich plot and memorable characters. The story ended on a fantastic cliff-hanger, but fortunately we now have what is likely to be the finale in The Turn of Midnight.
This novel comes with a handy catch up of characters and events of The Last Hours to refresh your memory. You could read it as a standalone novel, but your experience will be much richer if you read both the books. The Turn of Midnight opens at the exact point where its predecessor left off, as Lady Anne has banished her daughter Eleanor to a serf’s hut after a night of extraordinary events. But it doesn’t end there for our heroine, as the men on watch note that there are bandits coming towards the safety of the moated manor house. Fortunately though, they are mistaken and it is Thaddeus Thurkell, returning to report on what little life is left outside the demesne. It appears that the Black Death has done its worst and is coming to an end. Dorseteshire is in ruins as the population has dwindled and the labour that would normally plant the crops and work is decimated. Lords have fled or died and there is little direction for the people left. Both Lady Anne and Thaddeus know that change is in the air, which could mean freedom for the people of Develish. But who will listen to a woman and a bastard serf? A plot is hatched from a fortuitous battle in the woods but has the potential to go awry as their enemies appear in strange places…
The book deals primarily with the aftermath of the Black Death and the slow rebuilding of the world around the people of Develish. It’s an excellent insight into the downfall of a civilization and an exciting glimpse into the rebuilding of one, where there are no rules but to use your wits to gain the best for yourself (and for caring people like Lady Anne, the best for her community). Thaddeus’ quick witted thinking and ability to adapt move to a new level as he must pass for the unknown to grant the people of Develish their freedom. Lady Anne doesn’t have quite as many life or death decisions to make in this book, but she too needs to think quickly and use some knowledge that hasn’t been exercised for some time. The enemies of Develish are both known and unknown. Old foes like Father Anselm and Eleanor don’t have the potency that they once did. Hugh de Courtesmain is despatched away from Develish to work his evil somewhere else. But Lord Bourne is an initial problem, wanting Develish for himself and others move out of the shadows. There are also issues closer to home when some displaced people are brought to live within Develish and their methods of living are shocking. Although most of the characters are familiar, they are as finely detailed as in the first book.
The Turn of Midnight again excels in creating a wonderful sense of place and enveloping the reader in the time period. I tend to read little fiction set in this time period, simply because it feels too distant. But Minette Walters has brought the time period to life, demonstrating that these people had the same essential struggles and emotions as people living today. It’s also easy to understand the way the characters speak and unfamiliar rituals and names are explained as part of the story. Despite the fact that the battle scenes involve arrows and not high powered weapons, they are gripping. It’s an action packed story that you can’t put down (I read the second half in one setting).
Do note that Minette Walters is touring Australia this week and next – check out her itinerary here. I can’t wait to hear her speak!