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The Nameless Day: The Crucible Series Book 1    by Sara Douglass order for
Nameless Day
by Sara Douglass
Order:  USA  Can
Tor, 2004 (2004)
* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Sara Douglass, author of highly popular fantasy series like The Wayfarer Redemption and The Troy Game, brings us something different in this new Crucible series, that begins with The Nameless Day. It's historical fantasy with an element of horror, and is set in an alternate Middle Ages, with many of the same major characters (such as Joan of Arc and the Black Prince) as in our own past, and with the same devastating Plague.

Douglass gives us the usual battle between good and evil but deliberately obscures the true identities of angels and demons. At the beginning we see the breakdown of a tradition, handed down through generations of Popes, along with St. Michael. The regular opening of the Cleft ('the earth's vile gateway into hell') and the dismissal of demons into it, is interrupted by the death from the pestilence of the monk Keeper, Brother Wynkyn, before he can hand over his responsibility to a successor. We see demonic children (who appear angelic) escape into the world, and we wonder what their role will be in events as they mature.

Fast forwarding in time, we meet well-born Thomas Neville, who joined the Dominicans after his married lover's suicide along with their unborn child. St. Michael appears to Thomas and offers him redemption by finding a casket left by Wynkyn, locating the Cleft, and leading an army of 'righteous anger' against 'Satan's imps'. Thomas sets off on this quest. Along the way, he's cursed, told that 'a whore will steal your soul', and a demon predicts that 'one wicked black day, you will crucify righteousness for the sake of evil!' That sets the scene nicely, as Thomas travels across Europe, in search of Wynkyn's casket.

We meet another major player, a minor noble, widowed (but virgin) Lady Margaret, as she sells herself to Thomas's uncle for food and transportation home to England. She also seems to have a surprisingly close connection to Hal Bolingbroke, Thomas's old friend and childhood companion, and he in turn knows French Princess Catherine well. Margaret travels with the English army, as they fight in France under the Black Prince. There are scenes of carnage as the peasants revolt and an evil centered on Paris, which has rejected 'Lord and priest' in favor of self-rule - sadly, they're soon subjugated.

Medieval Thomas is asked the modern question, 'Who are the 'demons,' priest, when you and yours preach that it is better to suffer misery than to yearn for a better and more just life?' Thomas ends up returning to England in the entourage of the Black Prince. There's a magical pregnancy, and the discovery of plans to put a 'Demon-King' on the English throne. The reader gets glimpses of a surprising set of conspirators manipulating events, unbeknownst to Thomas. The resolution of this first episode takes Thomas out of the church and close to the throne, and leaves us wondering what Margaret's big secret is.

As always, the story is very well written, though somewhat wordy to my taste, with the main male character an anti-hero. Sara Douglass raises many questions in this first episiode of The Crucible, intriguing readers to read on in the series for answers.

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