Douglas Nicholas's first novel, Something Red
, is a horror story set in 13th-century England. The narrative follows a band of four travelers as they attempt to cross the countryside at the same time a vicious "something" is in the area, brutally murdering those with whom the troupe has contact but never attacking the quartet directly. The leader of the company, an enigmatic woman named Molly, knows more about the killings than she readily admits, and determines to use her talents and those of her retinue to stop the slaughter.
The tale is told from the viewpoint of thirteen-year-old Hob, an orphan unofficially adopted by Molly. As the book opens, Hob has been touring with Molly, Molly's lover Jack, and her granddaughter Nemain (pronounced "NEV-an"), for just over a year. Hob is the only individual that readers come to know well; Nicholas does a brilliant job of...
Beyond the Book
is set in 13th century England, in the latter part of what is known as England's High Middle Ages (essentially the time period from the Norman conquest in 1066 to the end of the reign of the last Norman king in 1272).
Although English life was beginning to change with the gradual development of cities, the economy was still mostly agrarian in the 1200s, with 90% of the population (estimated to be around four million people in 1300 AD) making their living off the land, either as farmers (growing wheat for personal use or other grain crops to feed livestock) or herders (mostly sheep and goats). Villages and towns primarily served as commercial centers that were reached by poorly maintained mud roads; the only large city was London with an estimated...