(The Meonbridge Chronicles Book 2)
“How can mere women resist the misogyny of men? A resentful peasant rages against a woman’s efforts to build up her flock of sheep… A husband, grown melancholy and ill-tempered, succumbs to idle talk that his wife’s a scold… A priest, fearful of women’s "unnatural” power, determines to keep them in their place. The devastation wrought two years ago by the Black Death changed the balance of society: more women saw their chance to build a business, learn a trade, to play a greater part. But many men still hold fast to the teachings of the Church and fear the havoc the daughters of Eve might wreak if they’re allowed to usurp men’s roles and gain control over their own lives. Not all men resist women’s desire for change – indeed, they want it for themselves. Yet it takes only one or two to unleash the hounds of hostility and hatred…”
I am tempted to say that this novel (this series) is the fourteenth century equivalent of the UK’s long running BBC radio drama The Archers (of which I am a huge fan). Tempted because the by-line for The Archers is ‘An everyday story of country folk’ – and A Woman’s Lot is certainly that!
The village of Meonbridge is struggling to survive after the terrible Mortality (the Black Death) had brought such horror upon the land. Entire families had died or wives were left without husbands, husbands without wives, no children to continue the family line, no parents to bring up the children… This in turn leads to further hardship and suffering for those who had survived for there were few people to do the work, no skilled labour meant those who could work were in a position to leave their homes and find employment elsewhere – on their terms, not as almost slave-labour under their feudal masters. It is after or during war or widespread disease that those who have survived come into their own – and in many cases, this means the women. Change has to be accepted, but often at a price and in the face of (male) adversity. All this upheaval and struggle to remake their lives is very well portrayed by Ms Hughes who brings a brilliant insight into the difficulties left as an aftermath of a natural disaster.
There are a lot of characters, and the character list does help a little but going back to check it is not easy on a Kindle, and I would suggest to read the first book first in order to get to know the characters better. The detail is superbly researched with the minutiae of everyday life almost on a level with being on a par with a documentary or non-fiction book, this might be at the expense of pace, however, for the narrative is somewhat slow in places – but this novel is not meant to be a fast-paced adventure romp, it is an intriguing and highly interesting meander through the lives of people who had suffered terribly and were determined to make the best of what they were left with, so for readers interested in the daily life of the people who survived the Black Death, of the consequences of such a dreadful disease, or just interested in the 1300s – for the wealth of fascinating everyday detail I’d say this is a must.
© Ellen Hill
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