The Burning Roadby Ann Benson
In fourteenth-century France, pockets of plague still bring death to peasants and noblemen alike. Amid the fury and the chaos, Dr. Alejandro/b>
From the bestselling author of The Plague Tales comes a spellbinding new novel that sweeps from medieval France to America in the year 2007—interweaving two gripping stories and two extraordinary eras....
In fourteenth-century France, pockets of plague still bring death to peasants and noblemen alike. Amid the fury and the chaos, Dr. Alejandro Canches searches for a safe haven, accompanied by his foster child, Kate—the illegitimate daughter of Edward Plantagenet. But both disease and human enemies pursue them, and their only hope for survival is a rebel leader... and medical secrets that lie hidden in an ancient manuscript.
Seven hundred years later, Dr. Janie Crowe is searching for the cure for a crippling disease in a world where genetic engineering has gone mad. A repressive government wants to stop her, unnamed benefactors want to help her, and time is running out to find answers linking two dark eras, two dedicated doctors, and one miraculous book....
From the Paperback edition.
"Gripping...exciting and complex."—Booklist
Don't miss Ann Benson's bestselling debut novel: The Plague Tales
"Part historical novel, part futuristic adventure... chock full of curious lore and considerable suspense." —Entertainment Weekly
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When had Alejandro Canches last read the language on the papyrus before him? It would not come clear to his sleepy mind. In Spain, he thought; no, France, when I was first here.
Ah, yes, he remembered, it was in England. The letter from my father, left behind when we fled.
He struggled to reach back into the memory of that time, to push aside the veil of the years, for nestled dormant beneath the bitter wisdom of manhood was the sweet eagerness of the boy he had once been, the one who had studied these letters by candlelight under the careful scrutiny of his family. He had found pleasure in the task, while other boys his age complained. Of what use is all this studying? they would say. Soon we shall all be forced to speak Spanish anyway.
If we are not killed before then, he recalled thinking at the time.
The first page was done, its symbols unlocked, the words finally revealed. He felt the pride of that small boy, and the hunger for praise that never died. He ached to the depths of his immortal soul to do more, but his mortal body seemed determined to forbid him that joy. Would he awaken later in a cold pool of his own spittle, with the letters smeared to ruin beneath his cheek? Or would the candle burn down while he snored with his chin on his chest, and spread its wax upon the leaves? He could not allow either.
He carefully turned back the papyrus pages and read to himself again what he
had translated. The symbols, applied with aching precision in the purest gold, ran right to left on the page.
abraham the jew, prince, priest, levite, astrologer, and philosopher, to the nation of the jews, by the wrath of god dispersed among the gauls, sendeth health.
In these pages, the apothecary had claimed, there were great secrets. And it
was only because he was in desperate straits, the rogue had further said, that he would consider parting with such a treasure. So the young woman who called Alejandro Canches her pere had reached into the pocket of her skirt on a trip to the apothecary shop and extracted the gold coin he insisted she always carry, should they somehow be separated, and boldly exchanged the coin for the book. Alejandro had sent her out for herbs, and she had returned with leaves of a different sort. She had known what it would mean to him.
He glanced across the small dark cottage in which they made their home of the moment, and smiled at her sleeping form. "I have taught you well, then," he said quietly.
Straw crinkled as the young woman shifted. Her soft voice drifted through the darkness, affectionate but chiding.
"Pere? Are you still awake?"
"Aye, child," he said, "your book will not let me go."
"I am no longer a child, Pere. You must call me by my name, or "daughter,' if that pleases you. But not "child.' And it is your book, but I begin to regret buying it for you. Now you must go to bed and give your eyes some peace."
"My eyes do not lack peace. They have far too much peace. They are hungry for the words on these pages. And you must never regret this acquisition."
She rose up on one elbow and rubbed the sleep from her face. "I shall if you
will not heed your own warning that too much use will ruin the eyes."
He peered through the semidarkness at the young woman who had grown up so fine and lovely under his care, so straight and strong and fair. Only the barest hints of child-flesh remained on her face and fingers, and soon, he knew, that too would melt away, along with her innocence. But the rosy blush of girlhood still lingered on her cheeks, and Alejandro wished silently that it would remain just a little longer.
She has become a woman, he admitted to himself. This notion was accompanied by a familiar twinge that he had yet to define to his own satisfaction, though he often thought "helpless joy" to be as close a description of it as he would ever find. It had lurked in his heart since the day, a decade before, when he'd suddenly found himself with this child to raise, and had grown as he discovered that despite his considerable learning, he was no better prepared than an unlettered man for the task. Although some
men seemed to know just what to do and when to do it, he himself was not a man who did the work of mothering with natural grace. He thought it God's cruel trick that the Black Death had claimed so many mothers--it was they who had labored alongside the physicians to bring comfort to their dying husbands and children, and then because of their proximity had died themselves in terrible numbers. And though he abhorred the dearth of mothers and physicians, Alejandro wished that more priests had been taken. Those who had survived were the ones who had locked themselves away for the sake of self-preservation while their brothers perished in service. He considered them a thoroughly scurrilous lot.
He had done his solitary best for the girl, without a wife, for he would not
sully the memory of the woman he had loved in England by marrying for mere convenience. And Kate had never complained of her lack of mothering. She had
reached the threshold of womanhood with unusual grace and now stood ready to
cross it. As the motherless ward of a renegade Jew, she had, through some unfathomable miracle, become a creature worthy of awe.
The lovely creature spoke. "Please, Pere, I beg you to heed your own wisdom. Go to sleep. Otherwise I shall have to do your reading for you when you are an old man."
This brought a smile to his lips. "May God in His wisdom grant that I shall live long enough to know such a worry. And that you shall still be with me when I do." He closed the manuscript carefully. "But you are right. I should go to sleep. Suddenly the straw seems terribly inviting."
He moved the tome aside so it would not be splattered with wax, then placed one hand behind the candle flame and drew in a breath to blow it out.
There was a knock on the door.
Their heads turned in tandem toward the unfamiliar sound, and Kate's voice came through the darkness in a frightened whisper. "Pere? Who--?"
"Shhh, child . . . be silent," he whispered back. He sat frozen in the chair, the light of the candle still flickering before him.
The knock came again, then a man's firm, strong voice. "I beg you, I am in need of a healer . . . the apothecary sent me."
Alejandro shot an alarmed glance at Kate, who sat trembling on her straw bed
with the wool cover pulled up protectively around her neck. He leaned closer
and said in an urgent whisper, "How does he know I am a healer?"
"He . . . he thinks that I am the healer!"
"What? What nonsense is this?"
"I had to tell the apothecary something, Pere!" she whispered back, her voice almost desperate. "The man was inordinately curious and would not let the inquiry go! And it is not nonsense. You yourself have trained me in the healing arts. And so to satisfy him I told him that I--"
From the Paperback edition.
Meet the Author
Ann Benson lives in Connecticut with her husband and is the mother of two grown daughters. She is also the author of the acclaimed novels The Plague Tales, The Burning Road, and Thief of Souls.
From the Paperback edition.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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Ann Benson has written another intriguing book. In continuing the story lines that began in The Plague Tales, the author has given the reader another dose of adventure in the past and future. The Burning Road is every bit as good as her first novel. In this installment, Ms. Benson moves her characters forward 10 years. A lot has happened in those 10 years, but you can bet that more is about to happen. Again, you don¿t have to be a history buff to enjoy this book. The author makes the story lines very interesting and explains what you may need to know about the different times. Most of the medical thriller plot lies in the future story line this time around. But that doesn¿t make either less interesting. Ms. Benson does a masterful job of developing characters and plot. She packs the adventure and narrow escapes into this one too. Again, I would recommend this book to any one who enjoys reading.