The narrator of this historical novel, Anna Frith, works as a servant in the household of the local minister. The story recounts the horrific events in a plague-ridden village of 17th-century England. Anna, having lost her young husband in a mining accident, loses both her sons to the plague, as well as a boarder in her household who seems to have been the first case in the village.

After these losses, she stays her grief by tending the sick in many families. Particularly after the village works out terms of quarantine with the earl, no help but food and supplies comes in from outside. She learns much from the local herbalists, two midwives whose work she carries on after their violent deaths. In this work she develops a close partnership with the pastor's wife.

The story takes us through the whole trajectory of loss, accusations, spiritual struggle, shared grief, creative adaptations, and eventually emergence from sickness and quarantine. Anna's own journey takes some surprising turns as her confidence and clarity about her own mission grow and deepen.


Based on historical records of an actual village that suffered a similar fate, this beautifully crafted novel offers a fine, thoughtful reflection on the many permutations of public crisis and shared suffering. The narrator-character is compellingly intelligent, lively, and multi-dimensional. The author, a journalist, brings to this work a practiced eye for events and consequences, a sense of pace and plot, and a responsible care for historical accuracy. A fine work for groups interested in medical history and/or public health. Reader's guide with discussion questions included.


The author is a journalist; this is her first novel.


Penguin Putnam

Place Published

New York



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