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The Middle Ages. Finally, the Black Plague has passed and for a while it seems evil has been defeated. Europe recovers; prosperity returns, trade resumes, and people slowly recover from the effects of the plague. Then, just as the Church relaxes its guard, war spreads across Europe. Widespread heresies challenge the authority of the Church. Revolts and rebellions threaten to topple the established monarchies and overturn the social order of Europe. And then the plague returns, worse than ever.
Thomas Neville, a neurotic warrior-priest, eventually discovers the cause. The minions of the Devil have been scattered throughout European society during the confusion of the Black Death. His task is to discover the identities of these shapeshifters so that the Church can move against them, but it is a dangerous task. These are master shapeshifters, perfect at their craft, and Neville can never be certain of who he should trust.
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Sara Douglass was born in Penola, a small farming settlement in the south of Australia, in 1957. She spent her early years chasing (and being chased by) sheep and collecting snakes before her parents transported her to the city of Adelaide and the more genteel surroundings of Methodist Ladies College. Having graduated, Sara then became a nurse on her parents' urging (it was both feminine and genteel) and spent seventeen years planning and then effecting her escape.
That escape came in the form of a Ph.D. in early modern English history. Sara and nursing finally parted company after a lengthy time of bare tolerance, and she took up a position as senior lecturer in medieval European history at the Bendigo campus of the Victorian University of La Trobe. Finding the departmental politics of academic life as intolerable as the emotional rigours of nursing, Sara needed to find another escape.
This took the form of one of Sara's childhood loves - books and writing. Spending some years practising writing novels, one of Sara's novels was published in Australia. BattleAxe (published in North America as The Wayfarer Redemption), the first in the Tencendor series, and found immediate success in Australia. Since 1995 Sara has become Australia's leading fantasy author and one of the country's top novelists. Her books are now sold around the world.
In Australian author Douglass's engrossing second volume in her historical fantasy trilogy (after 2004's The Nameless Day), simmering conflict between the lower classes and the gentry bursts into open revolt and sweeps across 14th-century Europe. At the center of the clash is Thomas Neville, former Dominican priest and chosen favorite of the Archangel Michael, who has ordered Thomas to locate Wynkyn de Worde's casket and use the contents to help defeat the hordes from hell that have invaded the world. Thomas has set aside his calling to the Holy Church to better search for the casket, becoming companion to Prince Henry of Bolingbroke and enemy of Richard II of England, both big players in the unfolding drama. Douglass seamlessly fuses the period's class struggle for freedom against tyranny with a disturbingly vivid look at the ambiguous battle between good and evil. Those who know their medieval history may carp that she takes too many liberties with such figures as John of Gaunt and Joan of Arc, but all will applaud the way she avoids the dull middle-book syndrome that commonly afflicts such series.
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