Year of Wonders: a Novel of the Plague


Author: Geraldine Brooks

Title: The Year of Wonders: a Novel of the Plague

Genre: Literary Fiction, Historical Fiction

Publication Date: 2002

Number of Pages: 308

Geographical Setting: England, in a fictional Derbyshire village

Time Period: 1665-1666

Series (If applicable): None

Plot Summary:  Anna Frith, an 18-year-old widow in a small town in Derbyshire, narrates this tale of loss, faith, death, fear, and growth. It’s 1665 in Derbyshire.  Anna, the young widow of a miner, has taken in a lodger from London to supplement the income she earns tending her sheep and serving the fiery new minister, Michael Mompellion, and his selfless wife, Elinor. When her lodger dies, the events of the coming year are set into motion—the Black Plague has arrived in her village.

As Michael Mompellion declares a quarantine, the town turns in on itself.  Anna becomes an unlikely heroine, providing for her fellow townspeople even as her own children die, and villagers turn to accusations of witchcraft and violence. Beautifully written, this is an honest and painful examination of human nature in the midst of a nightmare.

Subject Headings: bubonic plague, 1665-1666;England—Eyam—history; women’s lives and relationships, historical fiction, epidemics

 Appeal: lyrical prose, first-person point-of-view, complex language, historical setting, dark tone, character-driven, haunting, detailed, sense of place, descriptive

 3 appeal terms that best describe this book: dark, haunting, character-driven

 3 Relevant Non-Fiction Works and Authors

The Great Mortality: an Intimate History of the Black Death, the Most Devastating Plague of All Time by John Kelly

This history of the Black Death of 1340-1350 occurs three hundred years before the setting of Year of Wonders, but covers the various responses to the plague in towns, villages, and cities across Europe, chronicling the flagellants, witch scares, and anti-Semitism that followed in its wake.  Like Year of Wonders, this book is detailed and disturbing.

Court Lady and Country Wife: Two Noble Sisters in Seventeenth-Century England by Lita-Rose Betcherman

This intimate history of two nobly-born women in seventeenth century England details their lives after they married—one to a courtier, one to the Earl of Leicester.  This book will appeal to readers who enjoyed the historical setting, details about daily life in the English country, and women’s lives and relationships in Year of Wonders.

In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin by Erik Larson

This history of the American ambassador to Germany during Hitler’s rise to power is riveting, dark, and disturbing.  Its European setting and focus on the life of Martha, the ambassador’s daughter, makes this a good choice for fans who loved the tone of Year of Wonders.

 3 Relevant Fiction Works and Authors

Slammerkin by Emma Donoghue

Set in a small English village in the 1760s, this dark, disturbing novel chronicles the life of reformed prostitute Mary Saunders as she takes in needlework and develops complex feelings for both the man and the woman who have taken her in. The historical setting, beautiful and descriptive language, and dark, haunting tone as well as the focus on a woman navigating the limited power allowed her in her own time will appeal to fans of Year of Wonders.

Doomsday Book by Connie Willis

This science-fiction novel, set both in the 1300s and in a future London, features a young historian, Kivrin, who has traveled back in time to study medieval life in an English village.  But as her mentor searches to find her in time, dual disease outbreaks occur in both Kivrin’s time period and her mentor’s.  This compelling look at human nature in the face of disease, paired with a witty, stylish voice and brutal, genuine emotions, will appeal even to those who don’t usually read science fiction.

Daughters of the Witching Hill by Mary Sharratt

This historical novel, set in 1612 in Lancashire, England, is based on a witch hunt that actually occurred.  The women of the Southerns family have always had a gift for healing as well as for darker deeds, and soon powers beyond their control are at work. With its richly imagined setting, focus on women’s lives and relationships in a time when they had little power, and dark tone, this book would appeal to readers who were intrigued by the character of Alys in Year of Wonders.

Name: Shelley


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