Excerpt from Plague Land by S.D. Sykes, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reviews |  Beyond the Book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

Plague Land

by S.D. Sykes

Plague Land by S.D. Sykes X
Plague Land by S.D. Sykes
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Feb 2015, 336 pages
    Apr 2016, 336 pages


  • Rate this book

Book Reviewed by:
Jennifer G Wilder
Buy This Book

About this Book

Print Excerpt

Somershill Manor, November 1350

If I preserve but one memory at my own death, it shall be the burning of the dog-headed beast. The fire blazed in the field beside the church – its white smoke rising skyward in a twisted billow. Its odor acrid and choking.

'Let me through.' I shouted to their backs. At first they didn't respond, only turning to look at me when I grabbed at their tunics. Perhaps they had forgotten who I was? A young girl asked me to lift her so she might see the sinner die. A ragged boy tried to sell me a faggot of fat for half a penny.

And then a wail cut through the air. It was thin and piteous and came from within the pyre itself – but pushing my way through to the flames, I found no curling and blackened body tied to a stake. No sooty chains or iron hoops. Only the carcass of a bull, with the fire now licking at the brown and white hair of its coat.

The beast had not been skinned and its mouth was jammed open with a thick metal skewer. I recognized the animal immediately. It was my best Simmental bull, Goliath. But why were they burning such a valuable beast? I couldn't understand. Goliath had sired most of our dairy herd. We could not afford such waste. And then a strange thing caught my eye. Beneath the creature's distended belly something seemed to move about like a rat inside a sack of barley. I tried to look closer, but the heat repelled me. Then the plaintive call came again. A groan, followed by the high-pitched scream of a vixen. I grasped the man standing next to me. It was my reeve, Featherby.

'How can the beast be calling?' I said. 'Is it still alive?'

He regarded me curiously. 'No, sire. I slaughtered him myself.'

'Then what's making such a noise?'

'The dog-headed beast. It calls through the neck of the bull.'


'We've sewn it inside, sire.'

I felt nauseated. 'Whilst still living?'

He nodded. 'We hoped to hear it beg for forgiveness as it burns. But it only screams and screeches like a devil.'

I grabbed the fool. 'Put the fire out. Now!'

'But sire? The sacrifice of our best bull will cleanse the demon of sin.'

'Who told you this?'

'The priest.' These words might once have paralyzed me, but no longer.

'Fetch water.' I shouted to those about me. Nobody moved. Instead they stared at the blaze – transfixed by this spectacle of burning flesh. The ragged boy launched his faggot of fat into the fire, boasting that he was helping to cook the sinner's heart. I shook him by the coarse wool of his tunic.

'Water!' I said. 'I command it!' The boy backed away from me and disappeared into the crowd, only to sheepishly return with a bucket of dirty water. And then, after watching me stamp upon the flames, some others began to bring water from the dew pond. At first it was but one or two of them, but soon their numbers grew and suddenly the group became as frenzied about extinguishing the fire as they had been about fanning it.

When the heat had died down to a steam, we dragged the sweating hulk of the bull over the embers of the fire to let it cool upon the muddy grass. As we threw yet more water over its rump, their faces drew in about me, both sickened and thrilled as I cut through the stitches in the beast's belly to release its doomed stuffing. It was a trussed and writhing thing that rolled out in front of us – bound as tightly as a smoked sausage.

As I loosened the ropes, the blackened form shuddered and coughed, before gasping for one last mouthful of air.

Then, as Death claimed his prize, I held the wilting body in my arms and looked about me at these persecutors. I wanted them to see what they had done. But they could only recoil and avert their eyes in shame.

  • 1
  • 2

From Plague Land by S. D. Sykes. Published by Pegasus Books. Reprinted with permission

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $12 for 3 months or $39 for a year.
  • More about membership!

Beyond the Book:
  Plague-Era Medicine

Join BookBrowse

Become a Member and discover books that entertain, engage & enlighten.

Find out more

Today's Top Picks

  • Book Jacket: What Storm, What Thunder
    What Storm, What Thunder
    by Myriam J. A. Chancy
    What Storm, What Thunder illuminates life in Haiti during and after the massive earthquake on ...
  • Book Jacket: Noor
    by Nnedi Okorafor
    Noor's heroine goes by the moniker AO. Though officially this stands for her given name, Anwuli ...
  • Book Jacket: Five Tuesdays in Winter
    Five Tuesdays in Winter
    by Lily King
    Lily King's two recent novels Euphoria and Writers & Lovers could hardly be more different: one has ...
  • Book Jacket: Never
    by Ken Follett
    Ken Follett's thriller Never outlines a chillingly possible path to World War III. Fifty-year-old ...

Book Club Discussion

Book Jacket
My Broken Language
by Quiara Alegría Hudes
A Pulitzer Prize–winning playwright tells her lyrical coming of age story in a sprawling Puerto Rican family.

Readers Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    The Paris Bookseller
    by Kerri Maher

    How a humble bookseller fought incredible odds to bring one of the 20th century's most important books to the world.

  • Book Jacket

    by Lea Ypi

    "Nothing short of a masterpiece."
    Publishers Weekly
    (starred review)

Who Said...

Wisdom is the reward you get for a lifetime of listening when you'd rather have been talking

Click Here to find out who said this, as well as discovering other famous literary quotes!


Solve this clue:

A P O B Y Houses

and be entered to win..

Books that     

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends the best in contemporary fiction and nonfiction—books that not only engage and entertain but also deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.