Rebecca Rideal,
1666: Plague, War & Hellfire
(Thomas Dunne, 2016)

1666: Plague, War & Hellfire is a book about London in that fateful year, and it's a brilliant introduction to a period of history and to the writing style of Rebecca Rideal.

Much has been written in the past about the Great Fire of London and of course about the Black Death. Some have been scholarly and others excellent historical fiction. This volume manages the almost impossible in bringing the reader all the facts about the happenings of the period with the light touch that makes it as easy to read as a novel.

Apart from the primary facts -- often too well known for us to revisit the era -- Rideal astounds the reader with asides, nuggets of otherwise lost information and clarifications of facts.

For instance it reminds us that the infamous site of the start of the fire, Pudding Lane, refers to the making of the pudding such as offal -- rather than what many thought of as nice pastries from a baker. In fact, Rideal tells us that the baker in question had a contract supplying the navy with biscuits, and the lane had been called Red Rose Lane before the butchers moved there.

Her accounts of naval battles in the Anglo-Dutch War are breathtaking in detail and bring the reader directly into the brutality of the conflict.

She also brings us clear pictures of the infighting among the generals -- mostly gentry -- involved in the war, and how these quarrels affected the outcome for both sides.

She lets us know that Christopher Wren was not the only person submitting plans for rebuilding London after the fire, while her narrative of that fire makes the readers almost feel the heat of the flames.

This is history that will ignite a passion to learn more and perhaps inspire others to follow her path in the writing of history that kindles awe in the reader.

book review by
Nicky Rossiter

27 January 2018

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