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Plague Land (2015)

by S D Sykes

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: Somershill Manor Mysteries (1)

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
21018107,630 (3.52)12
"Oswald de Lacy was never meant to be the Lord of Somerhill Manor. Dispatched to a monastery at the age of seven, sent back at seventeen when his father and two older brothers are killed by the plague, Oswald has no experience of running an estate. He finds the years of pestilence and neglect have changed the old place dramatically, not to mention the attitude of the surviving peasants. Yet some things never change. Oswald's mother remains the powerful matriarch of the family, and his sister Clemence simmers in the background, dangerous and unmarried. Before he can do anything, Oswald is confronted by the shocking death of a young woman, Alison Starvecrow. The ambitious village priest claims that Alison was killed by a band of demonic dog-headed men. Oswald is certain this is nonsense, but proving it--by finding the real murderer--is quite a different matter. Every step he takes seems to lead Oswald deeper into a dark maze of political intrigue, family secrets, and violent strife. And then the body of another girl is found."--Front jacket flap.… (more)
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» See also 12 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 18 (next | show all)
A historical mystery with the word plague in the title and a cover featuring a painting by Bruegel the Elder—who could resist? Plague Land is a great read on multiple levels: a solid mystery, a detailed depiction of life in rural England in the mid-1300s, and also a study of the role of Plague in reshaping the political and social order of the time.

For the first third or so of this novel, I thought I was reading something pretty good, but not necessarily great. Later in my reading, I realized that Plague Land was the first thing I reached for when I unexpectedly awoke at 6 a.m. On a Saturday. It takes a special novel to trump an extra few hours of sleep on the weekend.

The narrator and central character, Oswald de Lacy, a third son destined for life as a monk, is called home as lord of the manor after his father and two older brothers are struck down by Plague. Not long after his return home, a murder is uncovered. Oswald, an agnostic who nonetheless was comfortable with his life in the monastery, is already having enough trouble stepping into his unexpected new role. Then the local priest starts stirring up the community claiming the murder is the work of cynocephalae, demon-possessed, dog-headed men.

At first Oswald is something of a cypher. He tells his story, but shares little of his inner life, so while readers are engaged by events, they feel at arm’s distance from him. But slowly Oswald’s actions begin to speak for him, and as readers learn more about his world-view he becomes increasingly interesting.

Though the plot is less complex, this novel reminds me (in a good way) of Eco’s The Name of the Rose. A young postulant who remains innocent of the “ways of the world” is troubled by the new view of humanity he’s gaining. His mentor, in this case the apothecary at the monastery where Oswald’s been living, tries to interpret the world for him, simultaneously protecting and enlightening him.

I bought this book for the cover, and I have no regrets. Sykes’ blend of puzzle, history, and analysis makes for fascinating reading. ( )
  Sarah-Hope | Jul 25, 2021 |
Only a chapter in..... my partner really enjoyed the first half - it's a momentous time when the death of half the population finally tipped the economic balance away from the tight control of the Norman owning class and people were finally able to make some choices about where and how they lived. No wonder then that it was a savage time - just can't sit down to read it as fiction just at the moment. The Kingdom and Peoples of Kent by Stuart Brookes dealt with the archaeological evidence up to about 800AD - 500 years before this is set - what I would like to be reading is more of the same. What a long sweep of time, and how little evidence we really have of it!
  Ma_Washigeri | Jan 23, 2021 |
Good summer/beach read for plague enthusiasts (of which I count myself). ( )
  thiscatsabroad | Mar 5, 2019 |
Since childhood, Oswald de Lacy has lived in a remote monastery, but is called to return to his family home in Kent on the death of his father and two older brothers from the plague; he is now the lord of Somershill Manor, but he's finding it difficult to settle into his new role. When two young women are murdered in rapid succession, suspicion falls on the local village prostitute, while the village priest claims the deeds were committed by dog-headed beasts. When another murder is committed, Oswald himself is suspected of the crime and imprisoned. Will he be able to find the truth in time?

I was looking forward to this book, as a historical whodunit is one of my favourite genres, but unfortunately I found the characters and the plot rather formulaic and predictable, and was able to correctly identify the culprit within the first 100 pages. I gave up about a third of the way in as the story simply didn't hold my interest, despite of the interesting time period.

This is the first volume in a trilogy focusing on Oswald de Lacy, but needless to say I won't be reading any of the others. ( )
  passion4reading | Jul 24, 2018 |
This pushes all my buttons - medieval, murder, plague - I expected to thoroughly enjoy this! But 37 pages in I'm already weary of the stereotypes. I've got too many other books vying for my attention right now. Maybe sometime later I might pick it up and give it another try.
1 vote catzkc | Mar 23, 2018 |
Showing 1-5 of 18 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (1 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
S D Sykesprimary authorall editionscalculated
Grindell, ShaunNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

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Epigraph
A Disputation betwixt the body and worms

Take heed unto my figure above

And see how sometime I was fresh and gay,

Now turned to worm's meat and corruption

Both foul earth and stinking slime and clay


Medieval poem

Anonymous
Dedication
For Paul
First words
If I preserve but one memory at my own death, it shall be the burning of the dog-headed beast.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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"Oswald de Lacy was never meant to be the Lord of Somerhill Manor. Dispatched to a monastery at the age of seven, sent back at seventeen when his father and two older brothers are killed by the plague, Oswald has no experience of running an estate. He finds the years of pestilence and neglect have changed the old place dramatically, not to mention the attitude of the surviving peasants. Yet some things never change. Oswald's mother remains the powerful matriarch of the family, and his sister Clemence simmers in the background, dangerous and unmarried. Before he can do anything, Oswald is confronted by the shocking death of a young woman, Alison Starvecrow. The ambitious village priest claims that Alison was killed by a band of demonic dog-headed men. Oswald is certain this is nonsense, but proving it--by finding the real murderer--is quite a different matter. Every step he takes seems to lead Oswald deeper into a dark maze of political intrigue, family secrets, and violent strife. And then the body of another girl is found."--Front jacket flap.

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Book description
England, 1350: the Black Death has changed the country forever, taking master and servant alike.

Young Oswald de Lacey was never meant to be Lord of Somershill Manor, but when his father and older brothers die of the Plague, he must return home from the monastery and assume responsibility for an estate ravaged by pestilence.

Almost immediately Oswald is confronted with the vicious murder of a young woman, Alison Starvecrow. The village priest claims it is the work of demonic dog-headed men, a theory Oswald rejects as nonsense. But proving this - by finding the real killer - only leads Oswald deeper into a maze of political intrigue, family secrets and violent strife.

And then the body of another girl is found...
Haiku summary
Violent murder
'Beware the dog-headed beasts!'
Death wears human face
(passion4reading)

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