Friday 10 March 2017

BLOG TOUR: Fortune's Wheel (The Meonbridge Chronicles Book 1) - Carolyn Hughes

I do love a Brooks Cottage tour and, as you would expect, there is some great content available for you today: not only my review, which I know is the pièce de résistance 😉, but there's also an extract and a giveaway.  If you're not successful in the giveaway, I really do urge you to pick up a copy of Fortune's Wheel - you won't regret it!

Plague-widow Alice atte Wode is desperate to find her missing daughter, but her neighbours are rebelling against their masters and their mutiny is hindering the search.

June 1349. In a Hampshire village, the worst plague in England’s history has wiped out half its population, including Alice atte Wode’s husband and eldest son. The plague arrived only days after Alice’s daughter Agnes mysteriously disappeared, and it prevented the search for her.

Now the plague is over, the village is trying to return to normal life, but it’s hard, with so much to do and so few left to do it. Conflict is growing between the manor and its tenants, as the workers realise their very scarceness means they’re more valuable than before: they can demand higher wages, take on spare land, and have a better life. This is the chance they’ve all been waiting for.

Although she understands their demands, Alice is disheartened that the search for Agnes is once more put on hold. When one of the rebels is killed, and then the lord's son is found murdered, it seems the two deaths may be connected, both to each other and to Agnes’s disappearance.

What did I think?

It's no secret that I enjoy reading historical fiction, but it's not often you come across a book set in the 14th Century.  The Black Death struck Britain between June 1348 and December 1349, and is referred to in Fortune's Wheel as the mortality.  No family was safe from this terrible plague, with many whole families being wiped out and others left starving after losing their main breadwinner.

There are some impressive strong female characters in Fortune's Wheel.  None more so that Alice atte Wode who not only lost her husband and son in the mortality, but her daughter, Agnes, went missing after a rumoured affair with Philip de Bohun, heir to the lord of the manor.  Alice is like the glue that binds the women of Meonbridge together, from her ladyship, Lady Margaret de Bohun to Eleanor Titherige, who inherited her father's farm after he succumbed to the plague.

Whilst Alice is there to lend an ear to everyone in the village, she is carrying around her own tragedy: the mystery surrounding her daughter's disappearance.  Alice's son John is determined to find out what happened to his sister and will go to any lengths to find out, even arguing with Sir Philip who may know more about Agnes than we realise.

I don't know a great deal about medieval history, but I certainly learned a thing or two whilst reading Fortune's Wheel, without feeling as if I had been given a history lesson.  I had never heard of cottars and villeins and was fascinated by the hierarchy of peasants during these dark times.  It was almost like the beginning of the unions as they nominated somebody to stand up to the lord of the manor to argue for more pay.  Unfortunately, putting your head about the parapet could see it being chopped off and there are one or two dastardly deeds in Fortune's Wheel that succeed in keeping us guessing.  Let's just say that some people in Meonbridge are not exactly filled with community spirit.

Historical fiction can sometimes be dry and hard-going but the complete opposite is true of Fortune's Wheel.  I have to give a special shout out to the invaluable cast of characters listed at the beginning - many authors think readers have photographic memories and can cope with an abundance of characters being thrown at us all at once, so many thanks to Carolyn Hughes for the cheat sheet.  

I found Fortune's Wheel completely intriguing, fascinating and surprisingly emotional - I had become so emotionally invested in the characters that I was devastated for Thomas and Joan Miller, who struggled to cope after the loss of their five sons, and I admit to being close to tears at the end of the book when we learn of Agnes' fate.  I swiftly dried the tears from my eyes as, being book 1 in a series, I know that I can look forward to catching up with these colourful characters again in the future. 

Fortune's Wheel isn't just for historical fiction lovers, I'm absolutely positive that many readers will enjoy this medieval saga.  Riveting history homework that got top marks from me - more please, Carolyn!

I chose to read an ARC and this is my honest and unbiased opinion.

My rating:

Buy Links

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Intrigued?  Here's a little extract to whet your appetite:


Alice atte Wode, the Millers’ closest neighbour, was feeding her hens when she heard Joan’s first terrible anguished cries. Dropping her basket of seed, she ran to the Millers’ cottage. She wanted to cry out too at what she found there: Thomas and Joan both on their knees, clasped together, with Peter’s twisted body between them, sobbing as if the dam of their long pent-up emotions had burst. Alice breathed deeply to steady her nerves, for she didn’t know how to offer any solace for the Millers’ loss.

Not this time.

It was common enough for parents to lose children. It didn’t mean you ever got used to their loss, or that you loved them any less than if they’d lived. Few lost five children in as many months. But the Millers had. The prosperous family Alice knew only six months ago, with its noisy brood of six happy, healthy children, had been swiftly and brutally slaughtered by the great mortality.

Every family in Meonbridge had lost someone to the plague’s vile grip – a father, a mother, a child – but no other family had lost five.

The great mortality, sent by God, it was said, to punish the world for its sins, had torn the village apart. It had struck at random, at the old and the young, the rich and the poor, the innocent and the guilty. Some of its victims died coughing up blood, some with suppurating boils under their arms or next to their privy parts, some covered in dark, blackish pustules. A few recovered, but most did not and, after two or three days of fear and suffering, died in agony and despair, often alone and unshriven for the lack of a priest, when their loved ones abandoned them. After five months of terror, half of Meonbridge’s people were dead.

When the foul sickness at last moved on, leaving the villagers to pick up the pieces of their shattered lives, Thomas and Joan Miller went to church daily, to pray for their five dead children’s souls, and give thanks to God for sparing Peter. Then the arrival of baby Maud just a few days ago had brought the Millers a bright ray of hope in the long-drawn-out darkness of their despair.

But Peter hadn’t been spared after all.

About the Author

Carolyn Hughes was born in London, but has lived most of her life in Hampshire. After a first degree in Classics and English, she started her working life as a computer programmer, in those days a very new profession. It was fun for a few years, but she left to become a school careers officer in Dorset. But it was when she discovered technical authoring that she knew she had found her vocation. She spent the next few decades writing and editing all sorts of material, some fascinating, some dull, for a wide variety of clients, including an international hotel group, medical instrument manufacturers and the Government. She has written creatively for most of her adult life, but it was not until her children grew up and flew the nest, several years ago, that creative writing and, especially, writing historical fiction, took centre stage in her life. She has a Masters in Creative Writing from Portsmouth University and a PhD from the University of Southampton.

Fortunes Wheel is her first published novel, and a sequel is under way.

Facebook: CarolynHughesAuthor
Twitter: @writingcalliope
Goodreads Author Page:

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