If you read this blog often, you know I’m not a huge reader of traditional fantasy. Not because I don’t like it (although more than one name with odd apostrophes, like Lord Ar’guth’nirz, do make me break out in hives), but because I usually miss the first or third or tenth in the series and don’t have time to play catch-up. (Although I swear I will read the George RR Martin Ice and Fire series one day. Seriously.)
So I was excited to get The Devil’s Diadem by Sara Douglass. First, it’s a standalone fantasy, so I knew I could read it without feeling lost. Second, there’s not a single weirdly apostrophe’d, unpronounceable name. Third, it has to do with medieval plagues and alleged witchcraft and demons and all those historical British things that make my eyes light up like my terrier’s when she sees a new bag of chicken jerky coming into the house. *Nod to Shane O’Mac the Irish
The Official Blurb:
Bestselling author Sara Douglass—acclaimed writer of the Axis and Wayfarer Redemption trilogies—invites you to visit a twelfth-century England very similar to our own—except this England is a country on the brink of demonic disaster and its only hope may lie with a young noblewoman.
Maeb Langtofte is lucky, she knows, to have gained a position in the household of the Earl of Pengraic—one of the most powerful men in England, a man whose holdings rival even King Edmond’s. She is lucky that his wife, Adelie, whom Maeb serves, is a kind, pious woman (in contrast to the Earl, whom Maeb finds dark and secretive). But when word arrives that a plague is sweeping through Europe like a human wildfire, everyone in the Earl’s household is put on edge. It is whispered that victims of this plague are spontaneously engulfed in flames—as if the flames of Hell had suddenly leapt up to claim them. It is also whispered that the Devil himself is to blame.
As the disease spreads into England, so too does civil unrest. King Edmond calls his lords and their armies to return to London, and the Earl obeys, leaving Maeb and his family to fend for themselves. But it turns out that the Earl has been hiding far more than simple state secrets, and that his family, left alone, is at risk of losing not only their lives but also their souls. To her horror, Maeb will learn that, indeed, the Devil himself may have arrived on her doorstep. And worse, what he demands may, in fact, be running through her very veins.
Loved this book from the first chapter–I didn’t even need a warming-up period. Maeb is naive, sheltered, and from a good family run to seed. So taking a job as one of three women tending to pregnant Lady Adelie and her brood of children (that lusty Earl!) was Maeb’s only option other than joining a nunnery. And she’s got a bit too much backbone to join a nunnery. There’s a flirtation with the Earl’s eldest son, Stephen, and the mysteries surrounding the earl himself, to keep the story percolating along even before the journey to creepy Pengraic Castle and the onslaught of the Devil’s plague. And when plague victims spontaneously combust, is it a bizarre chemical reaction caused by a virulent disease–or really the work of the Devil himself?
Great characters, crisp writing, and a story that leaves you guessing as it takes twists and turns…all makes for a great read. It’s kind of a sad, thoughtful book despite moments of lightness, but I loved it anyway.
Want to win a copy of The Devil’s Diadem? Just say so. And if you’ve read other of Sara Douglass’ series, what did you think of them? Note that this contest is for an ARC. You know the usual: 1 entry for comment, a second for a blog follow, a third for a Twitter follow @Suzanne_Johnson, and a fourth for a Tweet or Retweet.