The first instalment of a captivating trilogy set against the backdrop of the English Civil War.
September 1625: Plague cart driver, Matthew Kneave, is sent to pick up the corpse of a baby.
Yet, on the way to the plague pit, he hears a cry - the baby is alive.
A plague child himself, and now immune from the disease, Matthew decides to raise it as his own.
Fifteen years on, Matthew's son Tom is apprenticed to a printer in the City.
Somebody is interested in him and is keen to turn him into a gentleman.
He is even given an education. But Tom is unaware that he has a benefactor and soon he discovers that someone else is determined to kill him.
The civil war divides families, yet Tom is divided in himself.
Devil or saint? Royalist or radicalist? He is at the bottom of the social ladder, yet soon finds himself within reach of a great estate - one which he must give up to be with the girl he loves.
Set against the fervent political climate of the period, 'Plague Child' is a remarkable story of discovery, identity and an England of the past.
- Format: Paperback
- Pages: 448 pages
- Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
- Publication Date: 29/03/2012
- Category: Historical fiction
- ISBN: 9780007312375
- Hardback from £10.65
- EPUB from £4.99
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Review by passion4reading
It's 1625 and Charles I has been crowned king. Near Oxford, plague cart driver Matthew Neave has been tasked to remove a dead baby and throw it into the plague pit, but as far as he knows, there is no plague at the farm where he's been sent; what's more, after a short while on the back of the cart the baby shows signs of life. Sixteen years later, and Matthew and his adopted son Tom are working in the London docks in Poplar, when Tom catches the eye of Lord Stonehouse. Shortly after, Matthew disappears, and Tom is being apprenticed to Mr Black, a printer in the city with Parliamentarian sympathies. While Tom is getting more involved with the Roundhead cause, he also investigates the matter of his parentage, and the possible connection to the Stonehouse estate.Described as a thriller by the author, this book failed utterly to raise any sort of tension about Tom’s parentage, as I really didn’t care which of the three Stonehouse gentlemen turned out to be Tom’s biological father or which of the three was trying to kill him; the mystery surrounding his mother was eventually given away by the author himself in what to me felt like an aside. Where the novel succeeds unequivocally however is the period setting which invokes the posturing between Parliament and the king, the breakdown of negotiations and the eventual call to arms with wonderful day-to-day details of the lives of Londoners and those living on a countryside estate, as well as the routines of militiamen; the scenes set in London that deal with the Grand Remonstrance make it abundantly clear that something unprecedented was taking place, and the Battle of Edgehill shows the savagery of war – never mind a civil war – without flinching away from the savagery of battle, while its aftermath shows only too well the psychological impact on a young man who just had to take someone’s life for the first time.I thought the author also succeeded to show how quickly a civilised society can disintegrate, with members of each party, Roundheads and Cavaliers, committing acts of unspeakable violence against members of the other party because they believe theirs is the righteous cause. The story is usually told in the first person by Tom, but for some inexplicable reason the author switches to an omniscient narrator just before the Battle of Edgehill, only to switch promptly back again when the hostilities are underway, which to me really jarred the flow of the story; along with some, albeit minor, inconsistencies, this novel falls just short of the required four-star mark to be allowed to be kept on my book shelf (with its limited space). A shame, because I always thought the period leading up to and the length and aftermath of the English Civil War a fascinating time in history, but I don’t think I will follow Tom on his further adventures as to me the book can very well stand on its own, with various plot threads sufficiently tied up; for those interested, an extract of the second volume in the trilogy, Cromwell’s Blessing, is added in the end notes.