Review: Quarantine by John Smolens

September 11, 2012 Historical Fiction, W.W. Norton & Company 6

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Pegasus (September 5, 2012)
  • ISBN-10: 1605984183
  • Source: Publisher

The trading ship Miranda prepares to sail into the harbor in Newburyport, Massachusetts when it is boarded by the town doctor, Giles Wiggins. The ship, sailing on its own after the crew is decimated by a deadly virus, is quickly quarantined and forbidden from coming to port.

Yet when residents of the town are hit with symptoms of the virus, Giles knows he must act quick in order to avoid the spread of the sickness. He quarantines the entire port preventing any movement of ships in and out of the harbor. Additionally, he sets up a pest house in an attempt to separate the sick from the healthy. Residents with any symptoms are ordered to be taken to this facility, separating parents from children, husbands from wives. Those families who go against Giles orders prefer to smoke the illness from their homes, causing horrendous fires, devastating homes and killing entire families.

Giles’ actions upset individuals like shipbuilder Enoch Sumner, owner of the quarantined Miranda and Giles half-brother. People don’t seem to take Giles’ orders seriously, crew members and passengers of the Miranda escaping the quarantined ship via rowboats. One of these individuals is Enoch’s shady son, Samuel.

When medication intended to treat those ailing from the virus is taken by a black marketer from Boston, the ever-increasing anarchy in the town increases. Giles takes it upon himself to hunt down those responsible for stealing the valuable medication, knowing the number of victims of the disease will increase if not treated. This medication, in combination with Giles’ somewhat nontraditional practices, help slow down the spread of the illness running rampant in the port town. It is only Giles’ quick thinking and subsequent skills of deduction that permit him to find a possible cause, and thereby potential means for preventing, the fever.

Storylines run rampant in this novel, but not excessively. A dominant one is that of Leander Hatch, son of the harbormaster, is the sole survivor of his family. He’s taken in by the Sumner family, serving as a stable hand in return for a roof over his head. His relationship to Giles, and to the Sumner family, is closer than even he realizes.

Quarantine is an incredibly intense, obviously well-researched, novel of historical fiction. Readers learn a vast amount of detail regarding the history of medical practices and the state of our country in its infancy. While the characters aren’t incredibly deep or tremendously well-developed, Smolens makes up for this by creating a tremendously robust and intense historical thriller. Highly recommended.

6 Responses to “Review: Quarantine by John Smolens”

  1. Amy @ My Friend Amy

    Yeah this sounds like something I’d like. I’m always fascinated by the impact of things like viruses in apocalyptic stuff, I’d probably like it in historical ficiton as well 🙂

  2. Kay Payant

    This novel is a page turner, skillfully developing your interest in the characters and their interconnected stories. For me, a history buff, I learned a great deal about a period and place I knew little about. I found learning about epidemics of the past interesting also. I’d highly recommend “Quarantine” for people who enjoy well plotted stories in a fascinating historical period.

  3. Stephanie
    Twitter: qbibliophile

    This sounds like a fascinating and intense historical novel. Thanks for the compelling review. You are really adding to my TBR list tonight, 🙂

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