At the Sign of the Sugared Plum by Mary Hooper
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Premise: This historical fiction novel centres around a young lady named Hannah who moves from the country to the big city (London) to support her sister Sarah’s sweetmeats business. Unfortunately, her arrival is alongside the arrival of the plague of 1665. As more and more news arrives of plague in different neighbourhoods, the threat seems to come closer and closer to Hannah.
I often think it’s useful to see an extract of a book to get an idea of the writing style. Here is a brief extract so that you can see a sample of the writing yourself:
“Well, it’s not in this parish,” she admitted. “But there are some cases in St Giles – and a house has been shut up in Drury Lane.”
“Shut up?” I asked. “What does that mean?”
“One of the people inside it – a woman – has the plague, and they’ve locked her up with her husband and children so it can’t be spread about.”
“So, there – it’s all contained!” I said. “And it’s just one house, Sarah – we don’t need to worry about that, do we? Doesn’t a place like London have all the best doctors and apothecaries? I bet we’re safer here than anywhere.”
“I don’t know – “
“But I’m here now, Sarah. Don’t send me back!” I pleaded, realising now that it must have been the plague that Farmer Price had alluded to in his strange expression. “Oh, do let me stay!” I burst out. “I can’t bear it if I’ve got to go home.”
Viewpoint: The story is told in first person, from the viewpoint of Hannah. Young, naïve, and fresh from the country to the city.
Character(s): Hannah is an endearing character; she can be quite strong willed at times but is equally determined to prove herself reliable to her sister. She meets a young apothecary assistant and quite quickly becomes enamoured by him which brings a little light to this story of dark times. She also meets up with a friend from the country Abigail who has taken on a role as a maid in a local big house. The young girls marvel at the wealth of the men and woman from the city, which gives the novel a lovely degree of colour and some more details.
Setting: I really enjoyed the authors description of the settings, particularly her descriptions of navigating the narrow streets, and how things changed at dusk making it easier for one to get lost. The little shop and the shared room all of which was richly described.
Any Negatives: None that I can particularly think of. Perhaps the almost instant love story but I was happy to go with it.
Overall View: I loved the details of this book. The relationships were sweet and the drama just quick enough paced to be enjoyable. I think I enjoyed this book more as in some ways it seemed so relevant with our current times going through covid. Hannah discusses all the preventatives people try and the restrictions put upon people, how they move around, night-time curfews, how food should be brought to the known infected, dipping coins in vinegar to prevent contamination, etc etc. Obviously, they were much harsher times than our own rather comfortable lives, but it was easier to place ourselves in those scary times, going through what we all recently have. I will definitely be keeping an eye out for more of this authors work.
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