Title: The Turn of Midnight
Author: Minette Walters
Genre: Historical Fiction/Mystery
Publisher: Allen and Unwin
Published: 24th October 2018
Synopsis:For all those who love Ken Follett’s The Pillars of the Earth, and Geraldine Brooks’ Year of Wonders comes the worldwide-bestselling Minette Walters’ compelling and fascinating historical novel of the Plague years.
As the year 1349 approaches, the Black Death continues its devastating course across England. In Dorseteshire, the quarantined people of Develish question whether they are the only survivors.
Guided by their beloved young mistress, Lady Anne, they wait, knowing that when their dwindling stores are finally gone they will have no choice but to leave. But where will they find safety in the desolate wasteland outside?
One man has the courage to find out.
Thaddeus Thurkell, a free-thinking, educated serf, strikes out in search of supplies and news. A compelling leader, he and his companions quickly throw off the shackles of serfdom and set their minds to ensuring Develish’s future – and freedom for its people.
But what use is freedom that cannot be gained lawfully? When Lady Anne and Thaddeus conceive an audacious plan to secure her people’s independence, neither foresees the life-threatening struggle over power, money and religion that follows …
Picking up soon after the end of The Last Hours, which came out last year, The Turn of Midnight begins in 1348, and ends in 1349, during the dark days of the plague coming to England, and devouring the land and people, except for those sheltering in the demesne of Develish, overseen by Lady Anne after the death of her husband, Sir Richard. Out on a journey to find survivors and information are serfs led by Thaddeus Thurkell, whom she trusts on this quest, and eventually will head out on a quest of her own to help him. Back at home, her daughter Eleanor is ill, and needs care and help to survive in the absence of her mother. As the novel progresses, truths and scandals threaten to come out about Thaddeus, Eleanor, and religious leaders continue their plot against Lady Anne, threatened by her knowledge and authority as a woman who oversees Develish. The Turn of Midnight is the epic conclusion to The Last Hours and wraps up the threads that began in that book and leads to a conclusion that is satisfying and enjoyable, ensuring that the characters all get their stories wrapped up and resolved nicely.
This duology explores a time in history – medieval history and the plague, known as the pestilence throughout the novel, and the dynamics of power between the classes – the nobles and the serfs, and the religious figureheads, and their roles in the demesne, as well as gender and the ways the religious figures try to use claims of heresy, and other accusations against Lady Anne to take over – will they succeed, or will the demesne remain in Lady Anne’s control?
Allied with Lady Anne are the household staff she leaves in charge of Eleanor and the household, much to the chagrin of the religious factions. In the fourteenth century, religion played an important role, and despite being religious, Lady Anne’s skills and desires to teach Eleanor and Isabella were frowned upon by the church. It is also a novel of humanity at its best and worst. At its best, Lady Anne’s decision to bring in the healthy people of all classes and ages, saving her demesne from the plague. It is a novel filled with history, and intrigue, and mysteries that are woven in and out, throughout each perspective that is told, back and forth between the quest and the demesne and what is happening, ensuring that story is given a full body and dense, yet amazingly intricate threads and characters that revolve around a variety of issues around gender, class and religion that are still in play today, and that still affect people all around the world today in a variety of ways.
Like other historical fiction, the themes are universal, ideas around humanity and destruction, but placed in a different setting, and testing people in different ways and with different societal implications and challenges that change and evolve over time. It is one of those novels which is dense and intense, yet at the same time, summons you and begs you to read on, because there is so much to know, so many unanswered questions that need to be resolved. It does this nicely, and in a satisfying way that shows the expectations of people are not always right, and that people who try to undermine those they wish to will not always succeed.