Summary and book reviews of Plague Land by S.D. Sykes

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
    Paperback:
    Apr 2016, 336 pages

  • Rate this book


Book Reviewed by:
Jennifer G Wilder
Buy This Book

About this Book

Book Summary

In this chilling historical mystery, young girls go missing from a medieval English village and Lord Oswald de Lacy must find the killer before tragedy strikes again.

Oswald de Lacy was never meant to be the Lord of Somerhill Manor. Despatched to a monastery at the age of seven, sent back at seventeen when his father and two older brothers are killed by the Plague, Oswald has no experience of running an estate. He finds the years of pestilence and neglect have changed the old place dramatically, not to mention the attitude of the surviving peasants. 

Yet some things never change. Oswald's mother remains the powerful matriarch of the family, and his sister Clemence simmers in the background, dangerous and unmarried.

Before he can do anything, Oswald is confronted by the shocking death of a young woman, Alison Starvecrow. The ambitious village priest claims that Alison was killed by a band of demonic dog-headed men. Oswald is certain this is nonsense, but proving it - by finding the real murderer - is quite a different matter. Every step he takes seems to lead Oswald deeper into a dark maze of political intrigue, family secrets and violent strife.

And then the body of another girl is found.

Sarah Sykes brilliantly evokes the landscape and people of medieval Kent in this thrillingly suspenseful debut.

Prologue
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 ...

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • 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 $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Part of the pleasure in a historical mystery, of course, comes from the ambience of the time and place, and Oswald is a lyrical observer of the local color of his world, whether he's waxing poetic about the bucolic landscape ("the rain gave way to a fan of sunlight") or the texture of a plague pit ("creaking and bony mattress of death"). Sykes gives us plenty of medieval terminology to enjoy, including litanies of lovely-sounding archaic herbs with aromatic and medical uses. The scenery is richly imagined too – the manor houses and village hovels alike have seen better days. As pleasurable as Sykes' sense of the comic is, it feels at times as though the light tone of the narrative undermines the weight of the sinister events unfolding. The nefarious characters are at risk of seeming more like caricatures than actual threats, and the suspense is more tickling than spine-tingling.   (Reviewed by Jennifer G Wilder).

Full Review (710 words).

This review is available to non-members for a limited time. For full access, become a member today.

Media Reviews

The Independent (UK)
There's a nice, cliché-free sharpness to Sykes' writing that suggests a medieval Raymond Chandler at work, and there are no phony celebrations of the peasantry or earth-mothers thrusting herbal concoctions down grateful throats.

The Bookbag (UK)
It's dark and there's gore with a tone similar to Cadfael including moments of dry wit that bring unexpected smiles.

Shots (Blog)
Dark and disturbing, but is written so well that we are carried forward, eager to solve the enigmas.

Kirkus Reviews
Sykes' debut, the first of a planned series, immerses the reader in the filth and ignorance of medieval Kent, presents a puzzling mystery and introduces a hero who grows in stature as his problems increase.

Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Set in 1350, British author Sykes's debut provides everything a reader would want in a historical mystery: a gripping plot, vivid language, living and breathing characters, and an immersive depiction of the past.

Library Journal
Starred Review. With political intrigue and the social barriers of the Middle Ages in play, Sykes adds an intricate and intriguing debut to the ever-widening pool of medieval-era mysteries. Thrilling plot twists and layered characters abound in this rich tale of murder and mystery in 14th-century Kent.

From First Page to Last (Blog)
The mystery is engaging and I found the whole subject of the Plague and the feudal system fascinating. It's a period of history I wasn't familiar with but one I'd love to investigate further.

Medievalists (Blog)
If you're looking for a well written and engaging book set in the Middle Ages, or you happen to like thrillers, mysteries and "whodunits," then this is your cup of tea.

For Winter Nights (Blog)
Plague Land is an extraordinary debut novel - confident and clever, bringing the reader so close to the history it evokes.

Author Blurb Martine Bailey, author of An Appetite for Violets
There are plot twists aplenty. Plague Land is a quest to rebuild identity in an apocalyptic world, a theme that makes this new medieval series one I will be sure to follow.

Author Blurb Jake Woodhouse, author of The Amsterdam Quartet
Plague Land is a gripping historical crime thriller, an engaging coming-of-age story and a richly textured evocation of 14th Century Kent. I was totally hooked.

Author Blurb Antonia Hodgson, author of The Devil in The Marshalsea
Plague Land is a fascinating historical crime novel about a world turned upside down, inhabited by a rich cast of characters. A terrific debut and a wonderful start to a brand-new series.

Author Blurb Rebecca Mascull, author of Song of the Sea Maid
A compelling murder mystery with a stark yet poetic style [and] a vivid sense of place.

Reader Reviews

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • 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 $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Beyond the Book

Plague-Era Medicine

As Oswald, the hero of Plague Land tells it, most fourteenth-century medical practices were hit-or-miss experiments, with the misses resulting in dead patients and blood everywhere. The spread of the Great Mortality (Bubonic plague, or as it was later known, "The Black Death") inspired all manner of medical trial and error, as Europe struggled to stay ahead of the speedy and deadly epidemic.

Dioscorides' Materia Medica, c. 1334 copy in Arabic, describes medicinal features of cumin and dill Herbal medicine was often the first, and the last, line of defense available. Herbs were expected to function in a basic capacity as a sort of aromatherapeutic defense against contagion. If sickness came from bad air, a pomander or posy of good-smelling stuff like cloves, lemon balm, or mint just might keep it at bay. If you couldn't smell it, ...

This "beyond the book" feature is available to non-members for a limited time. Join today for full access.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • 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 $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Readalikes

Readalikes Full readalike results are for members only

More books by S.D. Sykes

If you liked Plague Land, try these:

  • The Spy of Venice jacket

    The Spy of Venice

    by Benet Brandreth

    Published 2019

    About this book

    Shakespeare in Love meets C. J. Sansom in a historical thriller with a swashbuckling twist - and a hero as you've never seen him before.

  • The Abbot's Tale jacket

    The Abbot's Tale

    by Conn Iggulden

    Published 2019

    About this book

    More books by this author

    From New York Times bestselling Conn Iggulden comes a new novel set in the red-blooded days of Anglo-Saxon England. This is the original game for the English throne.

Non-members are limited to two results. Become a member
Search Readalikes again
How we choose readalikes
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • 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 $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: The Sun Is a Compass
    The Sun Is a Compass
    by Caroline Van Hemert
    Caroline Van Hemert fell in love with her future husband, Pat, in 2001, discovering they shared a ...
  • Book Jacket: Women Talking
    Women Talking
    by Miriam Toews
    Miriam Toews' Women Talking is a circadian novel, unfolding over a span of just a few hours and ...
  • Book Jacket: Confessions of an Innocent Man
    Confessions of an Innocent Man
    by David R. Dow
    It is circumstance that carries the wave that sweeps trendy Houston restaurateur Rafael Zhettah to ...
  • Book Jacket: Memories of the Future
    Memories of the Future
    by Siri Hustvedt
    I've never kept a journal, but my mother has written in hers for years, the annual volumes she's ...

Readers Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    D-Day Girls
    by Sarah Rose

    The dramatic story of the extraordinary women recruited by Britain's elite spy agency to help pave the way for Allied victory.
    Reader Reviews

  • Book Jacket

    When We Left Cuba
    by Chanel Cleeton

    An exhilarating historical novel from the author of Next Year in Havana, a Reese Witherspoon Book Club pick.
    Reader Reviews

Book Club
Book Jacket
An American Marriage
by Tayari Jones

A masterpiece of storytelling, and a 2018 Oprah's Book Club Selection.

About the book
Join the discussion!
Book Club Giveaway!
Win Women Rowing North

The instant New York Times bestseller

A guide to wisdom, authenticity, and bliss for women as they age.

Enter

Word Play

Solve this clue:

A B Penny A T U

and be entered to win..

Books that     
entertain,
     engage

 & 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.