All Fall Down – Sally Nicholls
Marion Lloyd Books
My Rating – 5 stars (if like me, you love excellent historical fiction for children)
Award winning author Sally Nicholls won me over with her wonderful debut novel, Ways To Live Forever, a poignant contemporary story which was published in 2008. She has since written Seasons of Secrets (2009), contemporary fiction with a taste of magic, and her latest, All Fall Down, is her first foray into historical fiction, set in Yorkshire during the Black Death in the mid 14th century.
At the moment so much Childrens/YA fiction is concerned with post-apocalyptic dystopias but, as Sally Nicholls points out in a note at the end of her novel, “The Black Death was the single biggest catastrophe in historical memory. The exact number of casualties is unknown, but was probably somewhere between a third and a half of Europe.” This historical period certainly provides a compelling and dramatic backdrop for the story of Isabel and her family.
Our story begins in the summer of 1349 and events are narrated by fourteen year old Isabel who lives in the tiny village of Ingleforn in Yorkshire. She and her family are “villeins”, tied to the land which they rent from the lord of the manor so they can’t just up sticks and leave at the first sniff of pestilence. Thus, they begin a game of waiting, a tense time during which Isabel and her siblings have to grow up very quickly and cope with whatever fate hurls at them.
Told in the present tense, this is a gripping, vivid tale which will appeal to a range of ages especially those who appreciate interesting, believable characters and writing which immerses you right in 1349, capturing the idiosyncrasies of village life and the burgeoning fear which takes root in the hearts and minds of the villagers. Will caring for friends who have lost family to the plague end up endangering your own family? How quickly can mistrust and deceit thrive in this atmosphere of malevolence and decay?
A lot happens, we get to know many different characters and we experience a variety of settings, town and country, abbey and village church but Sally Nicholls demonstrates such an ease in her writing that the reader never feels rushed or manipulated. An excellent historical novel with a lot of human heart, highly recommended for readers of all ages and one which will appeal to anyone who enjoyed Pat Walsh’s Crowfield series.