Review - 1666: Plague, War, and Hellfire by Rebecca Rideal.
September 3, 2016
This was a book I got wind of about a month ago and eagerly ordered, and then at its launch there was a bit of a twitter historical kerfuffle (I say kerfuffle - on the twitter scale of outrage, with 1 being mild disagreement and 10 being bat-shit crazy internet Armageddon, it was probably a 3 - historians don’t really do screaming outrage very well - thank the gods). I was already well into the book by that point, and loving it!
Rideal has produced a most accomplished narrative of a pivotal year in British history. The research is meticulous, and detailed enough to satisfy any academic, and rich with stories of real Londoners - high and low - that will fascinate the general reader.
Is it groundbreaking? Probably not, but there can be no question of the quality of research. Where Rideal really, really, excels is in her delightful descriptive prose. The narrative is pacy, sparkling even, drawing the reader in - a quality often lacking with even the greatest historians - I devoured it in a few days, ignoring a first edition of Whiting’s Siege of Gloucester that arrived the same day.
Restoration London comes to life under her pen as we are introduced to a stream of characters, from the grotesque to the glorious, in a wonderful depiction of the city. I was enthralled by this book! Contemporary sources are cleverly weaved into the narrative, which really gives the feel of long lost voices speaking out. At times it reads like a thriller, even though we all know how its going to end, as the little people’s tales so often unheard keep you gripped to the end - the pace never lets up.
It has to be said, that the most fascinating books I have read in the last year or so on the Seventeenth Century, have all been written by women - Ruth Scurr’s biography of John Aubrey, and Lucy Worsely’s Cavalier: The story of a Seventeenth Century playboy, and Diane Purkiss’s People’s History of the Civil War, in case you were wondering. They are books I go back to again and again in my research to find sources and ideas. When my series gets to the 1660s, I will be happily mining Rideal’s work as a reference, and to pilfer some of the wonderful stories she has discovered.
1666: Plague, War, and Hellfire is available on Amazonand all other retailers