Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Book Review: The Scourge

Last week I finished reading The Scourge by Roberto Calas, and boy was it a gripping read! I ended up sacrificing the better part of a good night’s sleep to finish the final twelve chapters, and I’ve already started the second book in the series, Nostrum. My review follows this image of the book’s cover.

The Three Horsemen of the Apocalypse?
The Scourge is a compelling work of historical fantasy and alternate history that depicts Fourteenth Century England during a plague far worse than the Black Death. Believed by the priests and bishops to be a scourge from God, the plague transforms those afflicted into bloodthirsty zombies called “plaguers.” Imagine mixing a Bernard Cornwell novel with the zombie apocalypse, and thanks to Roberto Calas’ considerable research and attention to historical detail, it really works.

The novel’s premise is straightforward: Sir Edward of Bodiam seeks to return to St. Edmund’s Bury in East Anglia to save his wife from the plague sweeping across the kingdom. He travels with his companions, Sir Morgan, a devout knight and former priest who views the plague (and perhaps its cure) from a deeply religious point of view, and Sir Tristan, a skeptic with a witty sense of humor. Along with the more pragmatic and conflicted Edward, these three characters provide a spectrum of viewpoints – both religious and non – about the scourge and its origins.

This was the original cover when I bought it - both look good!
The knights’ religious bent, as well as that of most of the supporting cast, naturally plays a big role in the story since religion was a huge part of medieval life. There is even a Muslim point of view via a Moorish character who appears about halfway through the tale, and the novel is richer for it. One of my favorite aspects of the story was its focus on relics. Christians in the Middle Ages were obsessed with the bones and other remnants of dead saints, and the author cleverly plays on this obsession in the novel.

As one would expect from a story like this, the book is chock-full of action and suspense. The author has a knack for imagining just how bad a particular situation could be for the characters – and then makes it a whole lot worse. Suffice it to say, the numerous plot twists and cliffhangers kept me turning the pages to the very end. The author also has a talent for battle scenes and an appreciation for medieval weaponry, including the earliest firearms which began to emerge in the later Middle Ages and play a role in the story. The novel ends in a way that begs for a sequel, and fortunately the author has given us one. I truly enjoyed The Scourge and look forward to finishing the next book in the series.


Bill said...

Sounds like something worth reading, Joe.

Joseph Finley said...

Bill, thanks for the comment! It's a good read.