Sunday, 29 October 2017

Review: The Last Hours by Minette Walters

It is 1348, and the summer heat is 'sucking the life' from Develish. Sir Richard leaves his demesne to visit a neighbouring lord, hoping to find a husband for his spoilt fourteen year old daughter. But he's having far too much fun drinking and whoring to notice his host might have something to hide - that his people are rapidly dropping dead from some mysterious new illness.

Left in charge of Develish is the new steward, who is about to find out that Sir Richard's wife, Lady Anne, has been secretly running his estate for years. She's made changes to improve the health and welfare of the 200 serfs, and even taught them to read. Consequently, Develish is far more profitable than its neighbours. It's Lady Anne who realises the only way to survive this plague is to bring all the villagers inside the castle walls and close the gates on the world - including her husband. With everyone forced to work together for survival, regardless of status, this soon causes resentment, jealousy - and murder. And then the food store begins to run low.

The Last Hours is like one of those apocalypse stories where the few survivors are constantly at risk from attack or starvation. I know very little about this period in history and hadn't appreciated that most serfs never left their village. So when a small group of serfs are forced to go in search of food and news of the outside world, they have no idea how to find their way in what is now dangerous and hostile territory.

I loved The Last Hours and thought it was absolutely brilliant. I really cared about the characters and became completely engrossed in their lives. I loved Lady Anne and the way she used cool logic to outsmart her enemies. Another favourite was Thaddeus, a serf who was determined to get more out of life than a lifetime of slavery. I even loved the villain, who I won't mention because I don't want to spoil it for you! My only niggle is that although the story doesn't end on a cliffhanger, I will have to wait until autumn 2018 to read the next instalment. Argh!

Thank you to Minette Walters, Allen & Unwin (Atlantic Books), and Netgalley for my copy of this book, which I received in exchange for an honest review.

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