I’ve realised that when I start reading the first book in new series, I should have different expectations. It will not be a standalone novel so there will be continuing threads, unanswered questions and seemingly unrelated sub-plots which all come good in later books. In other words, I wear my ‘be patient’ hat. Plague Land by SD Sykes is first in the historical mystery Oswald de Lacy series. Set in 1350 in countryside ravaged by the plague, teenager Oswald reluctantly finds himself called home from the monastery to be lord of the manor. For almost the whole of the book, he is out of control of events. This is a historical mystery with an uncertain, inexperienced young lord at its centre. Oswald’s mother and sister are rude to him, the locals simply ignore him, his servants show a lack of respect. A neighbouring lord and the local churchman see him as easy to manipulate and when he is new to his role, Oswald agrees with them. He longs to return to the monastery with his mentor, Father Peter, who returned to Somershill Manor with Oswald. Sykes does a good job portraying a young adult trying to occupy a mature man’s role. What drives him on is an incurable determination to find the truth and an endearing bravery which makes him ask awkward questions and takes him to places he probably shouldn’t be.
When one young woman from the village, then another, are killed in mysterious circumstances, Oswald doesn’t so much lose control of the situation as never hold control in the first place. Rumours of dog-headed monsters rip through the community despite Oswald’s attempts to engage the villagers in logical analysis. Superstition, fear and myth abound in a countryside empty of people; understandable following the horror of death, disease and poverty of the plague.
Many people are not how or who they seem and Oswald learns the hard way not to take appearances or counsel for granted. His questioning of everything and everyone inevitably leads to conflict, and conflict is the beating heart of fiction.
I connected more with Oswald as the story progressed and he was less naive, and now anticipate reading the rest of the series. Coming soon, my review of The Butcher Bird, second in the five-book Oswald de Lacy series.
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PLAGUE LAND by @SD_Sykes #bookreview https://wp.me/p5gEM4-5nv via @SandraDanby