Book Review by Laurie Schut
I finished the 400+ pages of The Plague Child in three days. My previous record has been two days for the Stieg Larsson books; head down, hanging off sofa to relieve pressure on my bottom, lying down, legs crossed, legs stretched, a coffee break then back at it...it was work!
This is a page turner is set in mid-seventeenth century England; a time of the plague and the civil war. Author Peter Ransley has the character Matthew Neave, the plague cart driver, make a critical decision. He keeps the child he was sent to throw on the plague pit and takes him home. Tom Neave is then raised as his own until he is sent off to be apprenticed to a printer in London. Some unknown benefactor has decided to spend money on Tom's education and he becomes learned like a gentleman, but because he is at the bottom of the social heap, he is also beaten, tormented and miserable.
Does this sound slightly like another author, perhaps Dickens? It has a lot of the same themes, poor boy makes good, discovers his true identity, and is hopelessly in love with the wrong girl. But Ransley is no Dickens. We wander through the streets of a very real London, the poverty and the dirt, the disease and the splendor, with Tom as our guide. Not the gentle soul of David Copperfield, but the coarse, ruminating, self-doubting and self-loathing soul of Tom Neave. He is torn between grasping for his rightful inheritance and a place in society and the girl he loves. Often he comes out on the right side of the equation, but there are times…
Amidst his personal angst, Tom also copes with the outbreak of civil war and finds himself smack in the middle of intrigues of power in Parliament. This is the time of Roundheads and Royalists, the king against the parliament. He is a message runner and his messages to and from Mr. Pym and his lover, the Countess, change history. n warned of Mr. Pym immanent arrest, Tom runs through the streets with his pamphlets of Mr. Pym’s speeches, sure the world is going to change for the better. It is reminiscent of other times, when a new technology (pamphleteering is the precursor of the modern newspaper) changed history (think tweets and the devastation that followed that).
I liked this novel because I like to be fed my history with plenty of fun and interest. Tom’s life is both; he wins the girl, he finds his father, he triumphs over the worst part of his nature. Unsure of what side he should be on, but sure of his own interests, Tom muddles through the war.
This is the first of three books in the trilogy, and I am looking forward to finding out more about Tom Neave.
"Privilege, privilege, privilege!" (Shouted in Parliament after the King invades to arrest Mr. Pym).