Pestilence is a fantasy series about a feuding family dynasty. Like a disease, the thirst for power spreads quickly and kills many.
This is the third in the series but stands alone; however it is preferable to read the previous books to get to know the characters better and more quickly. The story is set in a fictitious kingdom that sounds European and Anglo-Saxon. There is a familiarity with the characters having the names of English kings - Edward, Alfred, Harold and John for example - but these are not the men from history and therefore the story messes with the foundations somewhat, particularly Alfred when he starts keeping a record of events in the same way King Alfred the Great did.
Fortunately the story takes over as the characters show the displaced and fractured loyalties, conspiracies and plotting. Written in the first person, present tense, from the point of view of Alfred (the eponymous Second Son), this is where the reader's focus is. The internal conflict between maintaining integrity alongside the fear of treason and the age-old sibling rivalry is central. The mother of the feuding sons serves to hone in on dysfunctional families and uses subterfuge to further the plot.
There is a Medieval feel to this family saga with the many knights trying to win favour and seek reward, heretics and priests, as well as ancient references to lands 'across the sea' and other Norse-sounding names. At the same time there is something very current about the situations the characters find themselves in...and I don't mean the pestilence, either. A pleasant, easy to read, engaging story.
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