Anna Frith is a young widow with two young children to raise, in a little village in Derbyshire, England, as the year of 1665 draws to an end. She is quiet, unassuming, and not inclined to make waves. She takes in a lodger sent to her by the local rector, to help make ends meet now that her husband's income from the mine is gone.
The lodger is a tailor, and he receives a deliver of cloth from London. Quite innocently, with that cloth, he has brought bubonic plague into the village. Over the next year, she faces previously unimaginable challenges, as her neighbors and friends die, and she needs to become a healer and leader among those not yet sick.
This novel is based on the events in the village of Eyam in 1666, where the local ministers responded to the arrival of plague by closing the village--no one in or out until the plague there has run its course--in exchange for supplies delivered to their boundary stone regularly by the neighboring villages. It was an extraordinary action, undertaken few other places in Europe, and in this novel Brooks imagines the experiences of the village through the eyes of the rector's maid. It's a wonderful evocation of courage and fear, community and division, and the weakness and strength mingled in varying degrees in every individual. Anna has to step forward and become the village midwife and herb woman, after the previous one is killed for being a witch. She's no perfect model of virtue; fear, jealousy, and resentment motivate some of her actions. But so do courage, generosity, and the belief that more people will die if the village gives way to division and fear.
In the midst of this annus horribilis, she finds joy, friendship, and confidence, as well, a year of wonders.
It's an incredibly engrossing and rewarding story, and I'm not doing it justice. Highly recommended.
I bought this audiobook.