When the Black Death enters England through the port of Melcombe in Dorseteshire in June 1348, no one knows what manner of sickness it is or how it spreads and kills so quickly. The Church proclaims it a punishment from God but Lady Anne of Develish has different ideas. With her brutal husband absent, she decides on more sensible ways to protect her people than the daily confessions of sin recommended by the Bishop. Anne gathers her serfs within the gates of Develish and refuses entry to outsiders, even to her husband. She makes an enemy of her daughter by doing so, but her resolve is strengthened by the support of her leading serfs…until food stocks run low and the nerves of all are tested by their ignorance of what is happening in the world outside. The people of Develish are alive. But for how long? And what will they discover when the time comes for them to cross the moat? Compelling and suspenseful, The Last Hours is a riveting tale of human ingenuity and endurance against the worst pandemic known to history. In Lady Anne of Develish – leader, saviour, heretic – Walters has created her most memorable heroine to date.
So I’ve been wanting to do something like this for a long time. To read something different, something which I wouldn’t have chosen a year ago. To read something outside my comfort zone. And when I stumbled upon The Last Hours on Netgalley, I saw the opportunity and requested the book. It was definitely not my usual kind of read: a hist-fic novel but set in the Middle Ages. However, it still piqued my interest.
I’m going to be completely honest here. Despite my issue with its length, I think The Last Hours is a really good book. I expected it would take me longer to enjoy it, but I was hooked from the very first pages. The writing was good and Lady Anne was undoubtedly a fascinating character. She was a woman living in the 1300s and she was smart, fierce, educated and I deeply admired her determination, as she surely had a lot of people against her. There were some characters like Thaddeus Thurkell and Gyles who were also great and multi-layered and others that you couldn’t help but hate with a passion (I’m looking at you, Eleanor).
The best part of reading this book was that it allowed me to learn about an era that I honestly knew nothing about. It was almost educational. I learned that religion was basically their only reason to live and they did everything in life in order to avoid going to hell. When the pestilence came, most people thought it was God’s punishment and they didn’t think Lady Anne was being helpful at all when she ordered to keep the sick separated from the healthy. Oh, and people not getting sick meant that they had experienced a miracle, not that they were simply stronger than others. I found it fascinating.
What prevented me from enjoying The Last Hours more was simply its length. I think I would’ve loved it if the book had been 200 pages shorter. Unfortunately, I had to skip some chapters because I really wanted to finish it and there were some boring parts where I felt it dragged. I was sad because of my initial enthusiasm and I just wished that feeling had lasted forever.
Still, I recommend this book because I truly believe there’s a great story here. If you’re not like me and you usually read longer novels, you shouldn’t have a problem. And I’m sure you’ll find Lady Anne a fascinating character to read about.
Netgalley, Allen & Unwin, 2017