The Black Death is, I admit, an odd topic for a blog post scheduled for the day after Thanksgiving. It just so happens that my interview with Liza Perrat went live this week—which was not an accident, because we timed it to coincide with the November book launch for Triskele Books, her publisher, scheduled for tomorrow. If you are lucky enough to be in Central London, stop by and say hello. I’m not jealous—no, not one bit.
Anyway, novels, as you probably know, explore the achievements and mistakes and decision making and responses of characters in trouble. It’s hard to imagine bigger trouble than being a healer in mid-fourteenth-century Europe, unaware that a plague of extraordinary virulence is about to land on your doorstep and wipe out most of the people you know. If you also happen to be a young woman with a family and a husband convinced that their survival should take precedence over some oath you swore to your long-dead mother, the stakes go up. If that long-dead mother left you a talisman that the local populace—desperate for a scapegoat as the number of plague victims mounts—believes could have demonic powers, they rise higher. And if your temperament does not fit contemporary ideals of submissive womanhood and your birth makes you suspect, finding a path through the morass of superstition and fear becomes, quite literally, a matter of life and death.
So in comparison we have, indeed, much for which to be thankful. Of course, epidemics, superstition, and war continue to plague us. Like a many-headed hydra, the world spawns new monsters each time the old ones suffer defeat. But for those of us who have friends and families, comfortable homes and good health, and careers—or at least hobbies—that we love, this is a day to give thanks. And to those who do not, let us try to extend a helping hand, even in the mad rush of shopping and preparations. Happy holidays!
The rest of this post comes from New Books in Historical Fiction.
The year 1348 is not a good time to be a healer in Europe. Midwife Héloïse lives in a cottage outside Lucie-sur-Vionne, where she walks an awkward line between villagers who need her services and others who fear that she owes more to the black arts than to their medical counterparts. When she threatens an invading bandit chieftain with the power of her angel talisman, her enemies are more than ever convinced that she dabbles in witchcraft. But Héloïse has sworn an oath on her dead mother’s soul to help those in need, and she refuses to let a few hostile ignoramuses deter her.
Le mort bleu—known to history as the Black Death—arrives quietly on a ship from the east. At first, the villagers make little of it. But Héloïse’s husband, fresh in from Florence, recognizes the symptoms of the disease that has devastated Italy and orders his wife not to treat the sufferers, lest she bring pestilence into their house. The villagers’ suspicions mount with the body count, and Héloïse’s struggle with her husband intensifies as her concern for her family conflicts with her oath. When the local count takes an interest in Héloïse’s healing gift, even her talisman may not suffice to protect her.
Liza Perrat has written two previous novels in this series, Spirit of Lost Angels and Wolfsangel. Here, in Blood Rose Angel (Triskele Books, 2015) we learn the origins of the talisman and of the female healers who pass it from one generation to the next.