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.
Book 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.
Book 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.
Book 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