A major plot arc in A Study of Ash & Smoke is about a mysterious plague that breaks out in the kingdom of Aelland. Under normal circumstances, it shouldn’t be strange that an unknown illness spreads to a new kingdom, except Aelland is closed off from the rest of the world by an impenetrable forcefield, the Mantle. What’s in stays in, and what’s out stays out.
In theory, anyway. 😛
Still, the Aellish people live in controlled conditions, with simulations for night and day because the Mantle doesn’t even allow light to pass through from the outer world. So, where does this plague come from? It couldn’t have just sparked into existence?
In the slums, however, closest to the Mantle, the people know better. By the time the book starts, it has been rumoured for a while that the Mantle was weakening, and people could come in or leave Aelland if they wanted to. This is a gamble, of course, considering the Mantle is made of energy and was designed to kill.
One of the viewpoint characters, Lance, is there when the first victim is discovered. Here’s an excerpt from that scene:
The stench of death and human waste worsened. Lance swallowed back bile and noticed Puck was doing the same. Took a lot to make slummers gag. Did that mean there really was a body? Had it come from the outside?
They struggled to push through the crowd. People spoke in low tones, but Lance picked up the words ‘body’, ‘dead man’ and ‘corpse’.
“Well, that’s him.” Puck pointed.
Lance whistled through his teeth. “You were actually telling the truth.”
“Go hang yourself.”
A mixture of mud and vomit surrounded a sprawling corpse, right at the edge of the Mantle. Next to it lay an animal carcass, stripped of meat. The long skull could only be a horse’s.
The human body had been pillaged of all possessions, even its teeth. The skin was the colour of mould, tinged in purple from the Mantle. Oozing black spots in various sizes stippled the body, while the veins were dark blue.
The nose, fingers and toes were black, with the bone or cartilage below exposed as the flesh had rotted away. Underneath the arms and around the groin, large, pinkish growths oozed yellow liquid.
“Slag and shit, that’s ugly.” Lance swallowed the bitterness rising in his throat again and raised his arm to cover his mouth and nose.
Puck did the same. “You seen him before?”
Of course, with everything currently going on in the media, I can’t help but think of the spread of illnesses.
Back in the day, when the bubonic plague hit Eurasia, it hit hard. And, though I’ve seen a fair share of outbreaks in my lifetime, I’ve never seen anything like what’s been going on in the media coverage of Covid 19.
This makes me wonder how social media would’ve influenced the world while the Black Death raged. Would it have saved lives if people knew to bathe regularly, or would the panic have been so much worse?
I’ll leave you to theorise. I have a book to write. 🙂