Nell looks exactly like Princess Joan and after Nell’s parents succumb to the plague, Nell and her brother George go to live in the castle where Nell works as Princess Joan’s body double in times of trouble. Now several years after her parents’ death, Nell, George, and Princess Joan are off to Spain where Princess Joan is set to marry the Prince of Castile. Unfortunately, Joan dies of the plague before she can meet her betrothed. Refusing to give up the power the marriage would give to his family, Princess Joan’s brother, the Black Prince, blackmails Nell into posing as the princess and forces her to continue the journey to marry Prince of Castile as if she were Joan. Nell does not want to go along with the plot and looks for every opportunity to escape. Luckily, Nell has several people on her side and with the help of some unlikely good Samaritans — a minstrel, a monk, a gravedigger, and some merchants — Nell and George slip away from the Black Prince, but will they ever be free from his vengeance?
Reaction: Overall, I liked it but I found it a bit flawed. It’s been awhile (maybe three weeks now?) since I read it and the things that have stuck with me about it aren’t necessarily the good things. I thought Nell was a bit weak. I think a lot of her weakness was understandable due to her position in life and the restraints of that position but I wanted her to do a bit more, be a bit more active in changing her own fate. Also, her blind devotion to Princess Joan and the way she put Princess Joan above her own needs even after P.J. was dead bothered me, though, again, somewhat understandable due to her position. George’s unexplained and sudden ability as a magical healer seemed out of place and unnecessary to the plot. It took me out of the story as I tried to puzzle its significance when it didn’t seem to have any. Finally, a big one for me, there was no historical note along with the text. I am not familiar this period of English history so I was curious about what was true and what wasn’t. Obviously the fantasy elements were not true but was the King a real king? Was Princess Joan real? What was the timetable of the plague? I just wish there had been some note as to the historical background of the story.
The Plague did have many things going for it. The best, I would say, is the dastardly villain, the Black Prince. I loved his ability to control rats like a pied piper. I can’t imagine having thousands of rats sent to chase after you and run all over you and squish you and bite you. Ack! Also, his use of rats and the fact that characters saw rats everywhere was great because of the plague. I know enough about the plague to know that rats played a part in its spread. I also liked the imagery of the plague worn country. The plague was almost a main character itself because of its total effect on the people and the land everywhere the characters traveled. The secondary characters were also amusing. I especially loved the jolly gravedigger. Oh, and the cover, pretty. Even the hard shell is decorative.