‘The Good Death’ (2021) by S.D. Sykes – Great Historic Fiction

In ‘The Good Death’, the year is 1370, and the manor of Somershill in Kent has seen better days. But for its lord, Oswald de Lacy, the past has never been more pressing. Oswald’s mother, a powerful woman, is dying, and she has a letter in her possession that conjures up images of the horrible year 1349, when the Black Death swept the region, murdering many people, including Oswald’s father and brothers.

Before it’s too late, Oswald’s mother has to learn what occurred all those years ago in order to make peace with her son. As a result, Oswald sits by her bedside, recalling the time when young ladies vanished from the town and he, a young novice monk, attempted to figure out why, when the world shrank every day as communities retreated inward or left, as the disease moved steadily closer.

The Oswald de Lacy books are fantastic. It’s brilliantly written, and it jumps around in time and across Europe (Oswald had lived in Venice), yet it constantly returns to the plague years and this Kentish refuge. After almost 10 years since The Bone Fire, the fifth novel, The Good Death, comes to a halt and instead travels back in time.

The majority of the period is spent in the days preceding up to the onset of the Black Death, when Oswald found himself with reasons to investigate the disappearance, and believed killings, of several girls from the town.

Oswald was a novice monk on the verge of manhood at the time, and he had no intention of inheriting. Everything was about to take a turn for the worse.

The Good Death is a phenomenal tale, as is typical of these fantastic works, and the reader becomes increasingly immersed as the story unfolds.

It moves at a slow pace in the first half, but I became completely absorbed in the second half and read it in one sitting. As the disease gets closer and closer, the mood and atmosphere intensify.

The community appears to be a safe haven, but for how long? Where have all the young women gone? The answers are hidden in the forests around the settlement, and anything is conceivable in that lawless environment. It’s both frightening and menacing, and Oswald, the innocent, finds himself in the middle of it.

The Good Death is a superbly written novel that is completely steeped in its setting, which is unquestionably one of the most horrific periods in English history. Of course, this was written and read during a pandemic, which adds to the mood and may make it easier for us to relate to these terrified populations.

You don’t need to have read the other books to enjoy The Good Death, though having done so may give you a better understanding of Oswald’s mother and sister.

The focus is very much on the past, which is a good thing because it means we can see the earlier novels in the series in a new light. Without a doubt, it’s clever.

Oswald is one of my favorite characters. He, as well as his family and acquaintances, appear to be real to me. I admire the author’s ability to conjure up this feudal era.

It’s beautifully illustrated and packed with historical information on life, society, law, medicine, work, obedience in a mid-14th-century estate, where workers are compared to mute insects, and a monastery.

In some respects, Oswald is alone and on the outskirts of society, and in others, he is a bridge between them. There’s a strong sense that he needs to let go of the past, and we learn why here.

The Good Death is a fantastic historical murder tale that I completely missed! The historical backdrop, as well as the location in wooded Kent, are both fantastic.

The tale is fantastic, but this book goes deeper than that, delving into a period in history when death was more terrifying than ever before, and feudalism was under siege from an unexpected foe: pestilence.

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