Last year, I was lucky enough to win a signed copy of Fortune’s Wheel by Carolyn Hughes in a giveaway organised by Brook Cottage Books.
Set in June 1349, Fortune’s Wheel is the story of the Hampshire village of Meonbridge. Following the worst plague in England’s history (what we now refer to as the ‘Black Death’ but what at the time would have been called the ‘Great Mortality’), half of the population of the village has been wiped out, including Alice atte Wode’s husband and eldest son. However, only days before the plague arrived, Alice’s daughter Agnes mysteriously disappeared. The mystery surrounding Agnes’ disappearance forms one of the storylines in the book alongside the struggle of the remaining inhabitants of Meonbridge to rebuild their lives.
I really enjoyed Fortune’s Wheel. You can read my review here along with links to purchase the book and to the book description on Goodreads. I was thrilled to learn that Carolyn Hughes was working on a second book in the series, A Woman’s Lot, due to be published in early 2018. Keen not to miss out on news, I signed up for Carolyn’s newsletter. Imagine my delight when I received, as a thank you for signing up, a free short story, Maiden’s Chance.
Set between Spring 1347 and Spring 1348, Maiden’s Chance features a number of characters from Fortune’s Wheel, including Agnes and Alice. It’s set just before the terrible events of the ‘Great Mortality’ which arrived on the shores of England in the summer of 1348.
Like Fortune’s Wheel there are fascinating details about daily life in the village which is a sort of medieval Ambridge (for fans of The Archers!). For example, in Maiden’s Chance, we get to witness the Christmas festivities at the Manor House with the villagers feasting on ‘beef brewet and almond frumenty, rabbit pies and roasted meats…cakes and pastries’ and pouring themselves ‘cup after cup of Sir Richard’s rich red wine the like of which they’d not taste again until next Christmas.’ Also the Midsummer Eve’s revels, which make poignant reading knowing the momentous events that are about to befall the village, events of which the villagers are blissfully unaware.
I really liked learning about the earlier experiences of some of the people who feature in Fortune’s Wheel and the additional insight into their characters. For example, the conflicted feelings of Johanna, the daughter of the Lord of the Manor, about the regard of her handsome brother, Philip, for the beautiful Agnes. These feelings will set in motion a chain of events whose full effects will only play out fully in Fortune’s Wheel, testing the bonds of friendship and risking dishonour and worse.
One of the things I enjoyed about Fortune’s Wheel was the predominance of female characters. However, the experience of Agnes in Maiden’s Chance reminds the reader of the limited expectations for a woman living at that time. Agnes’ dream of learning a craft is given short shrift by her father. “Before long you’ll be wed, and fully occupied with your husband and your croft, and mebbe a babe or two.” Although supportive of her ambition, even her mother has to concede, “Your path in life’s quite clear, Agnes…as was my own.” As her mother points out, the permission of the Lord of the Manor would be needed even for Agnes to leave the village.
If you like the sound of Maiden’s Chance, why not sign up for Carolyn’s newsletter. If you’ve already read and enjoyed Fortune’s Wheel it will tide you over until you the next instalment in the Meonbridge Chronicles is published. If you haven’t read Fortune’s Wheel, it would be the ideal introduction to the village and its inhabitants.
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.
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