The Crucible Trilogy

Picture of fourteenth-century nobles from Paul Lacroix, Manners, Customs and Dress During the Middle Ages (London, 1874).

Picture of fourteenth-century nobles from Paul Lacroix, Manners, Customs and Dress During the Middle Ages (London, 1874).

“… a gutsy epic combining the medieval odure of Ken Russell’s The Devils with some of the philosophical interests of Morris West and Umberto Eco, yet echoing Mary Stewart and Quentin Tarantino. The novel unfolds like a film on the page …” Van Ikin, The Sydney Morning Herald.

“… her hero is a wonderfully morally ambivalent character …” The Age

Unlike my previous novels, the three books of The Crucible take place in this world, although in a slightly distant (and slightly parallel) time. Fourteenth-century Europe was both a fascinating and a dreadful age: fascinating because of the renaissance in art, culture and scholarly activities; dreadful because of the crises that wracked the region’s peoples. For an outline of the entire trilogy, see below; also see an explanation of The Parallel World of The Crucible and if you want to make some sense of the chapter headings within The Crucible, see How to Calculate Medieval Time.

The fourteenth century was an age of unprecedented catastrophe for western Europe: widespread famine due to climate change, economic collapse, uncontrollable heresies, social upheaval, endemic war and, to compound the misery, the physical and psychological devastation of the Black Death. In all of recorded history there has never been before or since a period of such utter disaster: one half of Europe’s population died due to the effects of famine, war and the Black Death. As a result, Europeans emerged from the fourteenth century profoundly – and frighteningly – changed. Medieval Europe had been an intensely spiritual society: the salvation of the soul was paramount. Fifteenth century Europe abandoned spirituality for secularism, materialism and worldliness, its peoples embraced technology and science, and developed the most aggressively invasive mentality of world history. Why this profound shift from the internal quest for spiritual salvation to a craving for world domination? Was it just the end result of over a hundred years of catastrophe … or was there another reason?

The Crucible is a historical fantasy trilogy based on the grim events of the fourteenth century. It recreates the world as medieval people understood it, a world of evil incarnate, a world where demons and angels walked among mere mortals, a world where every event was as a result of either the hand of God, or of the Devil. In this world none of the multiple crises and miseries of the fourteenth century were ‘accidental’, or the results of natural forces, they were the by products of an extraordinary battle between the forces of good and evil, between the religious orders of the Church, aided by mysterious and often frightening angels of God, and the horrifying shapeshifting minions of the Devil: demons, imps and the even more infernal creatures that swarmed out of the dark forests of central Europe. The Devil had come to confront God, and he had picked Europe as his battleground.

The trilogy is based about the adventures of Thomas Neville, an English nobleman and Dominican friar. As nobleman and priest, Neville has the connections and influence to move within the most powerful circles of Europe. As a former soldier and scholar, he also has the qualifications and experience to circulate within the more shadowy and arcane cliques of medieval society. With his experience and talent, as well his religious zeal, it is not surprising that Neville has not only become one of the Church’s most effective spies, but will also become one of its leading soldiers in the ultimate battle against evil.

the-nameless-day-1steditionBook I: The Nameless Day

The Nameless Day is, according to the ancient pagan calendar of Europe, the one day of the year when the world of mankind and the enigmatic world of the spirits touch (the 23 December). On year in mod-century the worst happens: the forces of evil slide across the divide and invade Europe. As the Church becomes aware that something dreadful has occurred, it sends Neville on a secret mission through the shadowy forests and arcane religious orders of Europe to discover the extent and nature of the danger. But not even Neville, who, as a priest, is highly attuned to the machinations of evil, is prepared for the disaster that eventually sweeps across Europe: the horror of the Black Death. Neville, as his masters, finally becomes aware of the scope of the disaster, and the forces of the Church and God rally against the infiltration of the Devil’s minions. The battle has been joined.

the-wounded-hawk-1steditionBook II: The Wounded Hawk

The Wounded Hawk won the Aurealis Award for Best Fantasy Novel in 2001.

There is initial relief: the plague has passed and it seems that evil has been defeated. Europe recovers; like a wounded hawk it has faltered, but now soars into the sunlit sky. Prosperity returns, trade resumes, and people slowly recover from the effects of the plague. Then, just as the Church has relaxed its guard, renewed disaster. Endemic war spreads across Europe. Widespread heresies challenge the authority of the Church. Revolts and rebellions threaten to topple the established monarchies and overturn the social order of Europe. And the plague returns, worse than ever.

Neville eventually discovers the cause. The minions of the Devil had not been repelled at all … during the diversion of the initial epidemic of the Black Death, demons and imps had scattered throughout European society. They are master shapeshifters, and have assumed the faces of merchants, peasants, noblemen, scholars – and even priests. Now these shapeshifters are working their subtle, disruptive evil within every level of society. Neville’s task is to discover the identities of these shapeshifters so that the Church can move against them, but Neville does not know who he can trust, as he cannot know the nature of the being that lies behind every face he meets.

the-crippled-angel-1steditionBook III: The Crippled Angel

The Crippled Angel (along with Hades’ Daughter) was nominated for best fantasy novel in the 2002 Aurealis Awards.

The crises enveloping Europe deepen; worse, Neville realises that by their very nature, these crises are altering the mentality of the world. People are no longer content with their lot in life; they have grown ambitious and disruptive. The Church is losing its grip, not only are the heresies raging out of control, but more and more priests are speaking out against the Roman Church. Traditional rituals and rites, whether religious or secular, are under increasing threat … the order of the world is dissolving into chaos.

Neville is facing his own crisis: for the past few years, as he has moved about Europe and spoken to a myriad of different people (demons or not, Neville no longer knows), he has begun to question his own faith. In England, and acting undercover for the Church, Neville worms his way close to the two most disruptive influences within English society: the heretic priest John Wycliffe and the peasant rebel Wat Tyler. Neville suspects strongly that they are shapeshifting demons … yet he cannot help but agree with their criticisms of the traditional structures of society and of the Church itself.

Neville does not know it, but his soul has become the ultimate battleground. The choices he makes will dictate the final outcome of the battle between the forces of good, and those of evil.

Neville is being tempted.

The action takes place in Rome, central Germany, France, Russia and England. The Crucible is based on historical fact, and uses historical figures. I will take a small liberty with dates (compressing events into a 5-10 year period), but basically all I am doing with this trilogy is presenting historical reality with a slightly different explanation. All historians are good at that kind of thing … I remember once ‘proving’ to a class of second and third year university students that King Charles I of England was an alien – any historical fact can be twisted any which way to make a point, and none of those students could prove me wrong!

Whatever, the sudden shift in mentality in the fourteenth to fifteenth century is a well documented fact. Scholars about the world twist themselves into knots trying to discover the cause. Was it only the psychological devastation of the Black Death … or something else? Possible causes include the introduction of the clock, or the introduction of the zero which had not been in use before. The Church fought long and hard against the zero, believing it an instrument of the Devil (because it represented ‘nothing’), but it failed … and the European mind was forever changed. Upon such small ideas does the course of human history falter.

A note regarding the spelling of names and places: spellings of both towns, regions and people have varied enormously over the past five hundred years. In all cases I have taken one spelling and stayed with it … it might not necessarily agree with late twentieth-century atlases and history books.

©1999-2004 Sara Douglass Enterprises

Sara’s Bio: 1999

Let me see. I was born in Penola District Hospital, last child of four. My parents were farmers, and for the first seven years of my life I lived on their property outside Penola – Gundealga. We had sheep, lots of scrub, and a fairly carefree existence.

When I was school age we moved to Adelaide, South Australia, where I commenced some eleven years of education at Methodist Ladies College. Post education, lacking any clear direction in life, I became a nurse …..

There are some years here best forgotten. I toiled away on the wards, hating every moment of it. although there is one amusing story I can tell. I worked for many years at the Royal Adelaide Hospital, eventually becoming what was then known as The Ward Sister (actually, I was filling in, but I did fill that exalted position for some months). I was working on an orthopaedic ward, and orthopaedic wards were always half full of old ladies who had fallen over and broken their hips, and half full of young bikers, who had fallen off their bikes and broken one, or two, legs (the nurses could never work out which half was worse). There was one young man who annoyed me incessantly about a pain in his belly. He was constipated, but did Sr Warneke tell him that? No! Her creative imagination remembered a horror story she’d read many years ago, and from that, she ‘rearranged’ the poor chap’s diagnosis:

“Well,” she said, sitting on the side of his bed and staring sympathetically at both his legs in plaster, and privately wondering how in the world he would manage to balance on a bedpan while all his leather-clad cronies waited just beyond the curtain, “I hear you’ve just come back from a holiday in northern Queensland.” He nodded. “Yes.”

“Hmm. Well, ” Sr Warneke leaned conspiratorially closer, as if she had something of great import to impart. Actually, she didn’t want any of the other staff to overhead. She did have her reputation as The Ward Sister to protect, after all. “A pain running about your abdomen, you say?”

“Yes, Sister! It shifts all the time!”

“Ah …”

“What is it?”

“Well …”

“Tell me!”

“Well … I was reading this medical journal the other day, and it reported a strange diagnosis made on the west coast of America.”


“It appears a young man, much like yourself, was swimming in tropical waters –”

“– I went swimming in Queensland!”

“– and it appears he unwittingly swallowed the eggs of an octopus.”

At this the poor man had nothing to say, and merely stared at the Revered Ward Sister, whom he trusted implicitly.

Sr Warneke continued, her voice now the merest whisper. “The eggs hatched! Inside his bowel!”

“Oh!” The man laid his hands over his stomach: they clenched compulsively, rumpling the bedsheet into horrible creases.

“Then,” Sr Warneke continued, now thoroughly enjoying herself, “the tiny octopusses — or octopii, I’m not sure of the correct –”

“Get on with it!”

“Well, then the tiny octopussies started to swim about his abdominal spaces, growing larger on the fluids there. The poor man complained incessently of pains, always shifting direction, and although the doctors did X-rays, nothing showed up.”

“An octopus has no bones, or cartilage.”

“Quite right. So … eventually the poor chap died, and it was only when they were doing the autopsy, and they opened his belly, and all these octopussies swept out over the cold stone floor that they realised what had happened.”

“Oh my God!”

“But I’m sure that’s not what’s wrong with you,” Sr Warneke said soothingly, and then left the poor sod and went home. She thought no more of the matter, because what kind of fool could have believed that?

Two days later was the Grand Ward Round. Only if you have ever seen Doctor in the House can you imagine the Grand Ward Round. I always enjoyed them immensely, because all the sirs and professors where kind and charming to the ward sister, while they were hateful and horrible to all the interns and registrars, who drove Ward Sisters crazy.

And Sr Warneke loved to see those interns and registrars squirm.

And didn’t those interns and registrars know it.

So, to cut a long story short, the Grand Ward Round progressed in its stately fashion about the ward with about 25 young interns and registrars, the Ward Sister, and six or seven assorted sirs and professors (always known as the Gods). Whenever it got to a bed. the assorted six or seven Gods stood about the inner row of the patients’ bed, the Ward Sister among them, the rabble of hateful young doctors squeezed about in a circle some five or six deep.

As you can guess, eventually we get to the young broken-legged and horribly constipated man. Sr Warneke had forgotten all about the tale she’d spun the man 2 days earlier. For a while the discussion ranged about the issue of the broken legs, and then one of the Gods asked the man if there was anything he’d like to ask.

So the chappie mentioned these roving pains and, just as one of the Gods was about to cheerfully diagnose constipation, the man hurried on and, word for word, told the story that Sr Warneke had spun him. He did it excellently, quoting the medical references she’d made up and all.

Sr Warneke was horrified. Worse, she was mortified. Even worse, she knew that any moment she was about to be exposed. She started to fidget and wriggle about as if she had just realised she’d forgotten to order the cream cakes for the Gods’ Grand Morning Tea in half an hour.

The hateful rabble of young doctors realised there was something wrong, and closed in for the kill. She couldn’t escape. Then …

“And where did you learn all this, young man?” asked one of the Gods.

“She told me!” the man said, a finger stabbing in my direction.

As one every eye turned towards Sr Warneke. Sister heard one of the hateful young doctors snigger. She started to compose her resignation letter in her head. Then one of the Gods spoke.

“Well,” he said, “We shall all have to read those journals, won’t we? In the meantime, perhaps Ward Sister can ask one of her probationers to give the patient an enema and see what comes out.”

And he smiled at Sr Warneke, then waved over to the next bed. “Shall we move on?”

As one the hateful young doctors hissed in frustration, Sr Warneke collapsed in relief, and the Ward Round continued in its stately fashion through to the cream cakes and a very relieved Sister serving the Gods tea in the isolation of her office.

“You owe us one, Sister,” said the God who had saved me, and Sister nodded gratefully.

Gods, I’ve never forgotten that day, and that patient stabbing his finger in my direction. “She told me!”

I punctuated my nursing career with a trip abroad, spending time in England and Europe … best time of my younger life (I avoided tropical waters!). Then, back in Adelaide, I became more and more bored and frustrated with nursing, and eventually commenced a Bachelor of Arts at the University of Adelaide. I liked it so much I stayed to do a PhD, then the only place offering a job in history and an escape from nursing was Bendigo, so I grabbed it and ran.

In early 1999 I abandoned my academic career and all my fussing academic colleagues to concentrate on tending my garden and developing my writing. And so here I am at Ashcotte, full of hopes for the future, at least 6 books whizzing about my head, a garden pond to dig out and three garden beds to dig and lay out for spring (how shall I do it?), and now it’s time for a hot bath and a glass of wine, and so I shall have to leave you. As I think of more amusing stories from my varied past I shall put them up.

Editors note: This bio was taken from Sara’s website circa 1999.

Cultivate Your Own Garden

Why inquire after the doings at Constantinople,
When I might cultivate contentment in my own garden?


The paraphrase at the head of the page comes from Voltaire’s Candide, an eighteenth-century philosophical novel that nevertheless remains highly relevant today. The ‘hero’ of the novel, Candide, goes through incredible adventure after incredible adventure, seeking, as it were, after the doings at Constantinople, only to discover right at the end (after being shot, flayed, drowned, burned alive, and enduring shipwrecks and earthquakes, as well numerous bloody battles) that the only thing in life that truly matters is to cultivate your own garden. Seek contentment within yourself (using the metaphor of working in your own garden and ignoring the high life and clamorous glamour of Constantinople just down the road), and not to chase around trying to find ‘the meaning of life’. Trying to save the world is reckless and egotistical and accomplishes nothing save disaster. Save yourself instead by cultivating contentment with who or what you are. You’ll find this idea permeating Crusader as well.

©1999 Sara Douglass

Editors note: the above was an excerpt from Sara’s news page that she entitled The Garden Page from her website circa 1999. The image was from the bog garden at Nonsuch in Tasmania, circa 2007.