I have the pleasure of welcoming Alison McMahan to The Maiden's Court today! Please help me give Alison a warm welcome. Alison McMahan is the author of The Saffron Crocus, a young adult historical mystery novel that I am very excited about. I love seeing new YA HF! She stops by today with a guest post about the plague - I would say enjoy, but that might not be the best terminology! Read on!
Venice and the Black Death in 1630
Guest post by Alison McMahan, Author of
The Saffron Crocus
I recently stumbled on a NYTimes article that said that there is a new epidemic in town: between 2007 and 2011, syphilis increased among seniors by 52%, and it's still going around.
Fortunately for the lusty inhabitants of nursing homes, we now have the medication to cure syphilis. Such was not the case when the pestilence, or Black Plague, came to Italy.
The Venetian Republic, where my story, The Saffron Crocus, is set, was greatly impacted by the plague. But it wasn't alone. Milan and Tuscany were also hit hard by the plague in 1630. City dwellers thought they were escaping the illness by leaving the cities, but all they did was carry the disease with them to Naples, Rome and Genoa. Nearly seventy percent of the population of Northern Italy and Tuscany succumbed to the disease.
Eighty thousand lives were lost in just seventeen months in Venice alone. On the 9th of November, for example, five hundred and ninety-five died. The Doge himself succumbed to the illness that year.
What did those eighty thousand experience? The plague has three stages: flu-like symptoms with high fever; then buboes, painful black welts with vomiting and diarrhea; and finally, respiratory failure. The disease ran its course in two to eight days and was usually fatal. Even today, if a plague patient reaches the third stage, antibiotics might not save them.
I wanted my heroine, Isabella, to have lost her parents at the age of five to the plague, and to be fifteen at the time the story begins, so my story is set in 1643. Isabella lives in a city just beginning to recover from the epidemic. Those who were once married are now widowed. Those who once had parents, like Isabella, are now orphans. Those who were once wealthy now live in the crumbling remains of their wealth. Isabella lives with her elderly aunt, who contracted the plague, but somehow managed to survive it, although she is still very weak. They manage to get by with what remains of the aunt's diminished fortune, but Isabella knows the money is running out. She has to do something, take over as support for her little family.
And that is the main reason I set my story in the immediate aftermath of the plague. Because the aftermath of a disaster of such tremendous proportions scars the survivors for live, but it also creates a new space for them. The systems that worked before have failed, and new social systems have to be constructed. The rules that hampered a wannabee singer like Isabella are slightly loosened. And she is driven to do more than she would have were she still a girl cossetted by her parents and extended family. Now it's up to her. To start fresh. To build a new life. A new world.
Alison McMahan chased footage for her documentaries through jungles in Honduras and Cambodia, favelas in Brazil and racetracks in the U.S. She brings the same sense of adventure to her award-winning books of historical mystery and romantic adventure for teens and adults. Her latest publication is The Saffron Crocus, a historical mystery for young. Murder, Mystery & Music in 17th Century Venice.
The Saffron Crocus
Winner of the 2014 Rosemary Award for Best Historical for Young Adults.
Venice, 1643. Isabella, fifteen, longs to sing in Monteverdi’s Choir, but only boys (and castrati) can do that. Her singing teacher, Margherita, introduces her to a new wonder: opera! Then Isabella finds Margherita murdered. Now people keep trying to kill Margherita’s handsome rogue of a son, Rafaele.
Was Margherita killed so someone could steal her saffron business? Or was it a disgruntled lover, as Margherita—unbeknownst to Isabella—was one of Venice’s wealthiest courtesans?
Or will Isabella and Rafaele find the answer deep in Margherita’s past, buried in the Jewish Ghetto?
Isabella has to solve the mystery of the Saffron Crocus before Rafaele hangs for a murder he didn’t commit, though she fears the truth will drive her and the man she loves irrevocably apart.
Read an Excerpt:
"Who knew a singing career would be this much trouble?
“Rafaele!” She flew into the garret. “Piero, it was so wonderful, wait until I tell you!”
The stool next to the bed was knocked over. The tray with the genepy bottle was on the floor, one of the cups broken. The fat candle that had been burning next to Rafaele’s bed had been flung to the other side of the room.. Canvases were strewn all over the floor, some of them slashed, and many of Master Strozzi’s jars of paint elements were broken.
Did Piero and Rafaele have a fight? She quickly suppressed the thought. Who would get into a fight with a man who was already injured?
Something else must have happened.
She walked across the garret. “Piero? Rafaele, are you here?”
Rafaele was not in the bed. The sheets and blankets she had piled on top of him were strewn everywhere. Blood-stained sheets spilled over the edge of the pallet. There was a pile of clothes on the floor.
She walked around to get a closer look.
Not clothes. It was Piero. Face down, one arm stretched out before him, as if in supplication.
A puddle of blood under him.
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