Title // The Last Hours
Author // Minette Walters
Publication Date // October 2017
Publisher // Allen & Unwin
Genre // Historical Fiction
Australian RRP // $32.99
Rating // ✭✭✭✭☆
For most, the Black Death is the end. For a brave few, it heralds a new beginning.
When the Black Death enters England through the port of Melcombe in Dorseteshire in June 1348, no one knows what manner of sickness it is or how it spreads and kills so quickly.
The Church proclaims it a punishment from God but Lady Anne of Develish has different ideas. With her brutal husband absent, she decides on more sensible ways to protect her people than the daily confessions of sin recommended by the Bishop. Anne gathers her serfs within the gates of Develish and refuses entry to outsiders, even to her husband.
She makes an enemy of her daughter by doing so, but her resolve is strengthened by the support of her leading serfs … until food stocks run low and the nerves of all are tested by their ignorance of what is happening in the world outside. The people of Develish are alive. But for how long? And what will they discover when the time comes for them to cross the moat?
Compelling and suspenseful, The Last Hours is a riveting tale of human ingenuity and endurance against the worst pandemic known to history. In Lady Anne of Develish – leader, saviour, heretic – Walters has created her most memorable heroine to date.
The Last Hours is a gripping historical fiction novel set during the devastating time of the Black Death.
I’m not going to summarise the story – the synopsis above does a really great job of capturing a lot of the details that make up the plot of The Last Hour – because I really want to focus on how this story affected me as a reader. I don’t naturally gravitate towards historical fiction stories; most of the ones I read are sent to me for review, for which I’m grateful because it gives me an opportunity to explore books outside my comfort zone.
I won’t lie – The Last Hours looks like an intimidating book when you first see it. It’s just shy of 600 pages, set during the Black Death (which is not an especially appealing time period) and I knew it would be dealing with fairly heavy topics during a time period that I don’t know all the much about. I was hesitant about picking it up.
Oh, how I was wrong.
This book is so interesting. Minette Walters has captured a terrifying time period with such grace and elegance that once I started reading it was hard to put this book down. Amid the terror and death that the plague brings down upon Dorset, we meet a range of characters who all have different life experiences, social status, and motivations for everything that they do.
Most notably is Lady Anne of Develish – a woman married to a man she doesn’t love, but who is educated and well-informed and takes good care of the serfs bonded to her husband’s land. She is strong and resourceful and stands up for herself in the face of the Church’s teachings of the time, and other people’s opinions of her actions. By contrast, her daughter and other staff of high standing in Develish had difficulty grasping her ideas, considering her a heretic as she overturns their conventional understanding of social order in order to save the lives of the people she is responsible for in the face of almost-certain death.
We explore a range of different characters throughout the book, but the heaviest POVs come from Lady Anne and the bastard-slave, Thaddeus Thurkell, whom she appoints as her steward.
There is a real sense of isolation as the community of Develish are cut-off from the world and must learn to live in close-quarters with one another for extended periods of time. They must combat cabin fever, lack of work and food and their histories with one another, as well as the changing face of the world as they know it.
I’m very grateful to Allen and Unwin for sending me a copy of this book to read and review and I look forward to Minette Walters concluding book. I gave The Last Hours 4.5 out of 5 stars.
(Thank you to Allen & Unwin for sending me a copy of Good Friday for review. All thoughts and opinions are my own.)