‘Something was approaching, something evil, I could feel it. As if in some distant land the devil had just unfurled his wings and was even now flying over the sea towards us, his shadow reaching out before him to cover the land.’

1361. It is 13 years since the Great Pestilence devastated England. In the small seaside community of Porlock Weir, plague strikes for the second time. Sara remembers the horror all too well and fears desperately for the lives of her children. Only a dark-haired stranger offers help, but at a price no one will pay. As more and more people die, the price no longer seems so unreasonable.

I’m always thrilled when Karen Maitland has a new book coming out. She is the queen of dark historical fiction. I have to say that none of her recent books can really compare to her earlier ones, but her novels are always enjoyable and convincing and offer what we all really want from fiction: escapism.

The atmosphere in this novel is superb. Maitland deftly conjures the 14th century on the page, with the mustard light of tallow candles, charms, holy relics, and an eclipse that many believe signifies the end of the world. The superstitions and beliefs of the time are fascinating to read about. The terror people would have felt to know that they could be the next to fall ill is utterly believable, and the uncontrolled hysteria following the outbreak of plague captures you and sweeps you along in its relentless tide.

Perhaps the only reason I won’t be able to say that I loved this book is because of the characters. There were simply too many of them and too little space for them to grow and develop, so I didn’t care about the plot as much as I could have done. Some of the characters really intrigued me and I would have loved to watch them develop throughout the story, but unfortunately the frequent switches in viewpoint prevented this from happening.

The book is fairly long and at times feels a little slow and repetitive. But it all leads up to a spectacular finale that will have you holding your breath and gripping the book tightly. The glossary at the end of the book, in which Maitland explains the true history behind the superstitions and beliefs espoused by characters in her novel, is particularly interesting and one of the highlights of the book.

This book is perfect reading for this time of year, when the air becomes chillier and the nights are closing in, so light a candle, find a comfy seat, and lose yourself in this atmospheric historical tale.

The Plague Charmer is released on October 20.

Thanks very much to Headline Review for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.