The novel brings out the desperation, poignancy, guilt of evoking God's ire. It also brings out the noblest nature in ministering the sick, worst by showing a gravedigger profiteering from the dead. It is gripping with ultimate grief mingled with fear and narrator is the eighteen year old widowed heroine Anna Frith. Vicar's housemaid and her attempts to find the origin of plague make her an unlikely heroine because of her class and gender. Facing the loss of family, disintegration of community that had launched on murderous witch-hunting, Anna emerges above the fear and fanaticism. Here science grapples with the religion, hate with love, and selflessness with cruel self-gratification. "It begins with the scent of rotting apples and a flush that looks like rose petals blooming beneath the skin. Then the yellow-purple pustule appears, swelling to the size of a newly born piglet. Eventually it bursts, like a pea-pod splitting open, spewing pestilential pus flecked with spots of rotten skin". Alfred Hickling says in Guardian.
The terrifying, yet noble tale of Plague Village is a historical fact. "In 1842, William Wood, a descendent of one of the few surviving families, observed in his history of the village that: "The immortal victors of Thermopylae and Marathon have no stronger claim to the admiration of succeeding generations than the villagers of Eyam; who in a sublime, unparalleled resolution gave up their lives - yea: doomed themselves to pestilential death to save the surrounding country". http://books.guardian.co.uk/reviews/generalfiction/0,,521255,00.html
This virulent outbreak of Black Death killed four fifth of population in approximately 260 villages. Readers see through Anna's eyes, and the simple relationships form the emotional core of the novel. Even though the real rector of the time was a saintly person, Brooks' rector was slightly perverse and had a personal war against religion/God. Anna loses her children, her people, and she witnesses the community vanishing through painful death and reader sees how the dreaded disease destroys not just the body but the mind too and how people could becomes saints and sinners with irreversible consequences, faced by hopeless and daunting situations including the child mortality fear in rural communities (Lib Hancock: "It is folly and ill fortune to love a child until it walks and is well grown.").
It also celebrates the indomitable human spirit against fear and hopelessness despite the changing psychology of villagers faced by agony and death ("Sometimes, if I walked the main street of the village in the evening, I felt the press of their ghosts. I realized then that I had to step small and carry myself all hunched, keeping my arms at my sides and my elbows tucked, as if to leave room for them.").
The usual conventionality, gentleness, chivalry, affection all go through an unrecognisable change. "While this book is successful both in its historical description of the time and events, as well as in its multi-layered and expressive characterizations, it is perhaps the way in which the author sets up certain expectations on the part of the reader, only to ultimately dismantle and destroy them in the end, that this narrative stands out as more than just