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Year of Wonders

Not just for history buffs, journalist Geraldine Brooks fluidly tells a heart-rending, fascinating tale of passionate love, sinister intrigue and shocking twists and turns that are unexpectedly chilling and meaningful.

Set in Europe during the dark ages when the dreaded plague killed millions, the story is for anyone who enjoys a good page turner.

Narrator Anna Frith takes in a tailor who has travelled from London, only to discover too late that he has brought the plague with him on the material he carries.

The quiet country village is shaken into despair and desolation as over half the population is wiped out. Strong and loving Anna watches each of her precious babies die after burying her husband.

For some reason, Anna is immune to the outbreak and ends up becoming a nursemaid to countless friends and neighbors who succumb to the disease. Her friend, the village herbalist, teaches her the value in herbs and roots and shows Anna how to use them to provide teas and tinctures to the ill.

Meanwhile, Anna befriends the local rector’s wife. A pale and beautiful woman full of grace, Anna is drawn to her. Theirs is a relationship of kindness and friendship, though Anna is often treated distantly and coolly, as if she is a servant, by the rector.

Anna watches the couple’s relationship from afar, sensing a sort of strange mystery and aura about it. After nursing her friend back to health after a scare, their friendship is cemented. But the climate in the village is far from content. Looting and starvation threaten to ruin the healthy villagers that remain thanks to quarantine and threats from nearby villages not touched by the epidemic.

A rough crew of bandits forms on the outskirts of town, pillaging, wreaking havoc and smothering the town with a sense of fear and helplessness and enslavement to the conditions they are in.

All the while, Anna is learning to see the beauty in the world around her again, something she did well before she lost all she held dear. Her character is spunky, yet caring, able to rise to horrendous occasions and not afraid of completely being the person she’s been made to be.

Through this dark period in history in the book, Anna seems to represent many survivors who somehow learn to live again after tremendous heartbreak. Through shocking tension and a surprising, yet somehow satisfying finish to the read, Year of Wonders lives up to its compelling title.

Also by Geraldine Brooks, March – a take on the father’s viewpoint from Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women

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