The Last Hours
The Last Hours follows Lady Anne of Develish, her newly appointed steward Thadeus Thurkell and the demesne of Develish as they struggle to quarantine themselves from the Black Death (also referred to as the pestilence) sweeping across England in the 1340s.
Lady Anne works side by side with Thaddeus to ensure that all of the serfs in her domain are cared for and remain free of the pestilence. She is ahead of her time and understands that quarantining the healthy from the sick is the best way to keep the pestilence out. When Sir Richard and his retinue return from a journey afflicted with the pestilence, Lady Anne demands that the bridge across the moat be destroyed and refuses to allow her husband entry to his Demesne. In doing this she makes an enemy of Sir Richard’s steward and must protect herself and the people of the Demesne using only her wits.
Thaddeus aims to prove to himself that though he is the bastard son of a serf he is capable of great things. Thaddeus is intelligent, charming and well liked but the circumstances of his conception cause him great shame and anger. This results in him setting out to find food for the Demesne as they get closer to winter and their food stores run low. The story alternates between points of view, mostly Lady Anne’s and Thaddeus’, with some chapters devoted to Eleanor, De Courtesmain and various serfs. This leads to a richly woven tale in which things slowly unfold and move toward the conclusion of the book.
Sir Richard of Develish: Lord of the Demesne of Develish
Lady Anne of Develish: Sir Richard’s chattel wife and mother to Miss Eleanor of Develish
Miss Eleanor: the daughter of Sir Richard and Lady Anne
Thaddeus Thurkell: low born serf, raised to the status of steward by Lady Anne when the pestilence makes it’s way toward Develish.
Master De Courtesmain: Sir Richard’s steward.
This core cast of characters are all richly described and it was very easy to conjure up an image of them in my head. It was easy to imagine how they might talk with each other, the ways their interpersonal relationships played off one another and shaped the story. Minette Walters creates incredibly rounded, vivid characters. I found myself feeling a lot of the same emotions as the characters and was incredibly invested in the story.
This book is set in the 1340’s in Dorseteshire, England. It takes place on the Demesne of Develish, a small demesne given to Sir Richard by his family and mostly financially supported by Lady Anne’s money.
Most of the novel takes place in Develish but parts of it become the story of a journey undertaken by Thaddeus and 5 boys from the demesne. This journey happens across Dorseteshire as it would have been in the 1340s and it is very vividly described. Every effort is made by Walters’ to create a vivid scenery that the reader can immerse themselves in.
This has the same sense of enormity and scale that Ken Follett’s Century Trilogy has but within a smaller time period. While it doesn’t encompass nearly as much world history and span as many years it paints a rich scenery and vivid perspective of 1340’s England and the way the Black Death changed England drastically. In this way it reminds me of Follett’s writing and his ability to convey the changes of time. If you like Ken Follett you’ll love this book.
Overall thoughts/final rating:
I usually include a section on things I would change in the novels I review, but in this case I have left this section out. That’s not to say this book was perfect, but it was about as close as it can get. I found myself unable to put this book down and constantly thinking about Thaddeus and Lady Anne and how they could possibly manage to survive the Black Death.
As I said, this book isn’t perfect but it does tick a lot of boxes for me: characters, setting, tone, pacing, all of these things are done masterfully and Walters’ finesse as an author shines through. All in all I give The Last Hours 4.5 out of 5 stars.
This book was purchased by me and no compensation was received in return for this review.
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