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The Blighted Road-bookcover

By: Anna McCormac

The Blighted Road

Pages: 198 Ratings: 4.5
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The Blighted Road is a 17th-century story of two women’s harrowing journeys through plague and a brutal witch-hunt. Orla, renowned healer and mid-wife in rural England, confronts stillbirths and a mysterious, deadly sickness afflicting her community. The local superstitious people suspect these sinister events are the actions of the Devil. Desperate for answers, Orla’s investigation into past plague outbreaks reveal a shocking correlation with the harvesting of blighted grain. Her revolutionary findings lead to accusations of witchcraft. Meanwhile, Abigail, a young Londoner faces the horror of life in the plague-ridden city. After losing her family to the Black Death, Abigail escapes the locked gates of London. She flees on the plague road to Salisbury, which is fraught with danger and despair.

The separate tales of these women weave in and out as they reach a time and place where they are united by grief, loss and an uncanny will to survive.

Anna McCormac’s heritage is Lakota Sioux and Irish. Raised in Santa Cruz, California, she immigrated to Sydney, Australia, where she practised herbal medicine, focused on antenatal and women’s health. As a history enthusiast, Anna suspected that the “Witch craze” era held more than superstition, and began botanical and forensic investigations into the daily lives of people in the 17th century. She currently works as a registered Nurse, holding a Masters in Advanced Clinical Nursing, with a focus on vulnerable populations. Anna spends the rest of her hours working on her next books, and time with her husband and four grown children.

Customer Reviews
4 reviews
4 reviews
  • Leoninus


    An historical novel from debut author Anna McCormac.

    Set in England between 1618 and 1650 it focuses on the journey and fates of Orla Warner and Abigail Midwinter against the backdrop of the notorious witch hunts that took place in the 1640s and 1650s.

    The premise of the book intriguingly suggests that the origin of the witchcraft hysteria can be found in an outbreak of rye ergot. A fungus blight that thrives in a cold winter followed by a wet spring.

    Ergot forms hallucinogenic drugs in bread.

    Those stricken with ergot poisoning might suffer from delusions, paranoia, physical spasms, hallucinations.

    A further tragic side effect can be stillborn children.

    Anna McCormac has skillfully crafted her botanical research into the narrative to provide a quite gripping sequence of events. Reflecting the uncertainty, helplessness, fear and hysteria of an Essex village confronting mysterious illnesses and childbirth deaths – all leading to accusations of witchcraft.

    This section of the novel is particularly well structured and powerfully written.

    The author has not allowed her (I presume) wide botanical knowledge to overwhelm the story.

    The narrative moves well. Often swift and excitingly. The use of different time periods in alternate chapters allows the reader the follow the fortunes of the main characters.

    The main participants are also well drawn, rounded characters that the reader cares about.

    Orla, Abigail. The surgeon brothers - William and (particularly) Abraham Bones - who uncovers the cause of the mysterious plague.

    Other characters are also memorable: Reverend Cardell, Witch hunter Crashaw, murderous Nathaniel – even the hapless baker Reid who unwittingly spreads the deadly toxin through his produce.

    The use of seventeenth century speech throughout the book feels “right” and naturally presented. We are spared the over-used and invariably irritating florid, “faux English” that often plagues (sorry) such historical fiction.

    The Blighted Road held my interest throughout. It was an enjoyable read.

    The author notes suggest Ms. McCormac is at work on a sequel. I hope so.

  • Debra S

    What an amazing book. Loved the cover and title. Great detail and intriguing. I can’t wait for the second book and the ending!! Just brilliant.

  • Matthew Gredley

    The Blighted Road is a vivid and engaging read. A 17th Century Tale of Plague and Witch-Hunts, it tells the story of two women - Orla, a rural wise woman, who treats the injuries and illness of her fellow villagers with time-tested herbal remedies; and Abigail, a young woman who flees the death of her family, wrought by the Great Plague in London. Spanning several decades, the novel traces the harrowing journeys of these two characters, and their paths ultimately intertwine as they face the horrors of a witch-hunt.

    The trials and tribulations of the various characters are set against a scientific detective story - are the periodic outbreaks of a deadly scourge that is decimating the village related to the appearance of a fungus that infects the villagers’ grain, and thus, their bread? Are the eyewitness accounts of witchcraft as sworn by the villagers likewise related to this blight?

    From the very first page to the last, I felt immersed and enthralled by this first novel of Anna McCormac. Her craft draws you into the very gritty and perilous lives of her characters, so much so that you will seethe with anger at the treachery of the villains, and cry with both happiness and with grief at the triumphs and torments of the heroines.

    The Blighted Road is the perfect read for our pandemic-ridden times, reminding us of how frail our existence on this Earth can be in the face of both microbes and superstitions, yet how courageous and resilient the human spirit can be!

  • Kieran Williams

    The writing of his book precedes the current 'plague-like' crisis in England and around the world. It describes a time of great confusion, with fear of the unknown, lack of information, or ability to change the situation.
    Its uncanny how, with a small degree of imagination, one can relate this book to present day events. Its well written and well researched : well done for a first novel.

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