Set at the end of the Black Death in 1348 and 1349 England, The Turn of Midnight is Minette Walters’ sequel to The Last Hours. I absolutely adored The Last Hours so have been looking forward to the sequel all year.
If you haven’t read the first book in the series I do recommend picking up a copy before you dive into the second novel. Thanks to a handy glossary of people and places at the start you could start with The Turn of Midnight if you wanted to. You’ll enjoy it more if you’ve read the first one, though.
The sequel picks up where we left off: the plague appears to have run its course. Nobody has died since before Christmas but the Black Death has left chaos and confusion in its wake. Lady Anne and the people of Develish have survived thanks to the quarantine practices they’ve adopted. Others have not been as lucky.
Thaddeus and his companions leave the demesne to go in search of food supplies and to discover what has happened to the rest of their known world.
In some villages only a handful of people have survived, and those that still live are traumatised. Fear of repercussions – both from God and their earthly lords – prevents many serfs from taking food from their lords’ lands. But with absent or dead lords, there is no one to give permission. And so they starve.
Crops lie unharvested, sheep breed unchecked and markets remain closed.
The Turn of Midnight is a fascinating representation of what life might have been like in the early months following the Black Death. History tells us that it was, in fact, a catalyst for widespread social change. Labour was in extremely short supply so the system of serfdom – where nobility owned the people who worked their land – was unsustainable. Workers could start demanding wages for their labour.
I found the novel a little slow to warm up but really enjoyed it from about one-third of the way through. There’s a fair bit of following Thaddeus and his band of merry men around the forest at the start, which wasn’t quite what I’d been hanging out for. It was, however, satisfying to see the boys from the first book grown into responsible adults through their harsh experiences and Thaddeus’ steady influence.
I loved watching Lady Anne and Thaddeus grapple rather eloquently with those who would betray them. A large helping of kindness tempered with a teaspoon or so of blackmail give their plans the extra kick they need to succeed.
It was heartbreaking watching the aftermath of the disease unfold. The Church told its people that the Black Death was God’s punishment for their sins. For those who had tried to live a good life as they were taught by their priests, this was an immortal devastation on top of a mortal one:
“It filled us with terror to think we were alone in our suffering. My poor husband died not knowing what wickedness Dorseteshire had committed.”
I couldn’t help but feel like some of these points were a comment on the Church of today as much as that of 1348. Lady Anne is accused by some of heresy for wanting to free her serfs from slavery (therefore messing with God’s supposed natural order) and telling her people that cleanliness rather than godliness is their best protection from the plague. And yet, her trusted adviser Gyles notes:
For more than a decade, he had watched Milady use kindness and reason to quell the anger in men’s hearts… She displayed more honest love for people than was ever shown by men of the Church.
Overall this was a satisfying and interesting read with a complex but easy-to-follow plot in Minette Walters’ highly accessible writing style.
Disclosure: I received this book from the publisher for the purpose of review. This post contains affiliate links.