by Joanne Dahme
May 4th 2009 by Running Press Kids
Hardcover, 272 pages
0762433442 (isbn13: 9780762433445)
rating: 3 of 5 stars
"When I was George’s age, I had an unsettling dream about Princess Joan, and this was at a time when the princess was a stranger to me, known only through a flashing glimpse from a faraway vantage point.”
Nell and her younger brother George are escorting their parents’ bodies to the burial pit for plague victims when the King happens upon them. He mistakes Nell for his own daughter, Princess Joan. Without other future prospects, and determined to care for George, Nell agrees to become a companion to the princess, and, two years later, to escort Joan to Spain for her marriage to its prince. The traveling party is unprepared, however, for the misfortunes they encounter when they land on the continent. To save her little brother, Nell makes a dangerous agreement with the Black Prince, Edward Platagenet – an agreement which may put the entire country of England in jeopardy.
I found this to be a sweet little story. It put me in mind of Karen Cushman’s The Midwife’s Apprentice or Catherine Called Birdy, though, frankly, The Plague lacks Cushman’s depth and finesse. The Plague is supposed to be aimed at teens, but it seems more appropriate in a late-elementary or mid-grade marketing scheme. The characters, while promising, don’t develop beyond a sort of idealized dualism (good vs. evil). The plot is simple, but engrossing enough, and the vocabulary doesn’t quite reach SAT levels.
Having said that, it’s almost as though the lack of character development is intentional, because they show such potential. Nell’s motivation is simple: she wants to protect her younger brother. George, Nell’s brother, is slightly superstitious and actually has healing abilities (which he doesn’t discover until after his parents are dead.) Together they’re protective and affectionate, which resonates with me because of the relationship I have with my own younger brothers.