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Before venturing back and forth in time with this historical and futuristic adventure novel, Ann Benson was best known for her beads. The idea for The Plague Tales came to her during a period of research in London for one of her craft books; passing by an open plot of ground, she learned that it was a mass grave for 14th-century victims of the bubonic plague, inspiring her own fantastic version of the disastrous disease's effects.
The Plague Tales consists of two parallel stories: one an account of a king's physician in 14th-century England, the other a tale of futuristic London--a time when antibiotics no longer cure and "Bio-Cops," empowered to exterminate those suspected of carrying disease, prowl the streets. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
From School Library Journal
YA. First time novelist Benson tells a parallel tale of 14th- and 21st-century England, centered on the ever-fascinating Bubonic Plague. Alejandro Canches, a 14th-century Spanish physician, becomes the Papal appointment to the English court of Edward III. He is consigned the task of keeping the court alive during the Plague years beginning in 1348. The descriptions of treatments, daily life, and death during these terrible times are fascinating. Alternating chapters take place in 2005, a few years after the "Outbreak" and the end of antibiotic effectiveness against microbes. This is a world of biocops who shoot to kill if the infected try to escape, where transatlantic travel must be done in sterile gowns and masks, and "body printing" eliminates any semblance of privacy. Physician Janie Crow, in England for mandatory retraining since the drastic drop in population has rendered her surgical skills obsolete, accidentally unleashes the 14th-century plague bacillus on an ill-prepared London. This adventure grabs readers and carries them back and forth in time on the trail of the deadly bacteria. The blend of historical color and current biotechnology trends will have great appeal to young adults. It works as historical fiction, science fiction, or a technology thriller.?Carol DeAngelo, formerly at Fairfax County Public Library, VA
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
Top customer reviews
An American researcher accidentally digs up a scrap of cloth with the Plague on it and thereby causing a new outbreak of the Black Death. The cloth was left behind by a Jewish Doctor who saved King Edward III and his family from the Plague.
Very gripping story with many twists and turns. Very human story of people dealing with a disease beyond their medieval intellect. The modern people deal with the police-state mentality coping with outbreaks of antibiotics resistance diseases worldwide.
Very absorbing reading. High recommend it!
A really clever plot keeps you wondering right from the beginning. Two alternating tales of bubonic plague in the 14th century and disease outbreaks in the 21st century future keep you guessing what the connection between the two tales might be.
Both tales are equally fascinating: One is the story of a wandering Jewish physician from Spain who is unwillingly caught up in the political intrigues between Pope Clement and King Edward of England while trying desperately to hide the secret of his past. His experiences of plague in medieval Europe are frightening and grotesque. The other tale is of a woman physician, Janie Crowe, of the near future who has suffered heartbreaking loss due to outbreaks of unspecified diseases that have swept America and threaten Europe. Hysterical fear of these diseases have changed the face of modern civilization--air travelers are forced to wear sterile suits and masks and powerful Bio Cops are authorized to shoot and kill if it is suspected that a citizen harbors disease. Janie is engaged in research in London, and unearths something that has a connection to the 14th century physician.
As the book progresses, these separate stories begin to entertwine, bringing us to an interesting conclusion.
Benson does a wonderful job of making both stories compelling and equally interesting, and she gives you tantalizing clues concerning how the earlier story will come to bear on the future one. However, a slightly supernatural thread just doesn't fit with the technological bent of the book, weakening it.
Inevitably, comparisons will be drawn between this book and "Doomsday Book" by Connie Willis, a Nebula and Hugo award winner which contains the story of Kirin, a student in future London who is mistakenly sent back to a 14th century English village just when plague is breaking out. Like "Plague Tales," the Willis book alternates between the 14th century and England of the future. While superficially similar, "Plague Tales" is much more of a bio-thriller that is a fun book to read once and then pass along to a friend, while "Doomsday Book" is a deeper, more polished book with a stronger emotional impact that you will want to read again and again. Interesting how two different authors can come up with such different takes on a similar subject.
This book is the first of a trilogy, with The Burning Road, published in 1999, as volume 2 - also quite excellent, and The Physician's Tale, coming out November 28, 2006.
If you enjoy this book, I suggest A Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks (a great story about a young woman helping those in her village to stay alive during the plague) and The Doomsday Book by Connie Willis (this has a similar broad storyline to The Plague Tales, but it's actually a time travel book, with someone from the present going back to the 14th century in England. VERY well done, both her present day depictions of a viral outbreak and her rendition of the past. The Doomsday Book is one of my favorite books of all time!)
As some readers have noted the story is flawed in ways. A setting to be a little more in the distant future would be more believable. It stretches credulity to have professional people who have lived through an era of disease, be so reckless with unknown and known bacteria. In additions both stories endings are quickly patched to gather and leave the reader hanging.
I would recommend this book to those who like science fiction or medieval settings and can get past a certain amount of the unbelievable happening.