Voyager, £6.99stg

Sara Douglas has written two previous trilogies and this is the first book of her third. 'The Nameless Day' is set in the second half of the fourteenth century. The Black Death has come and gone, but its aftermath of disorder, fear and under-population shape the daily lives of those who are still alive. The Catholic Church has split, there are two popes struggling for control of a fragmented empire and the Hundred Years' War rages across France. All the while, ordinary people of the time suffer and die, struggling to pay inhuman taxes to fund the wars and keep the cardinals and nobles in luxury. It is not a good time to be alive.

The Dominican Brother Thomas seeks piety and enlightenment in the small Italian friary of St Angelo's, within sight of St Peter's basilica in Rome. During his hours of prayer he is visited by the archangel Michael. The angel instructs him to take up a mission abandoned thirty years previously. His task is to send each season's fresh crop of demons back to hell. While they were neglected, the demons grew and insinuated themselves into the highest levels of power across Europe. Now they foment heresy, treason and rebellion against the order of things ordained by God. Brother Thomas's mission has begun.

Douglas is an expert in early modern English history and this comes across very strongly. The level of detail, from the time of day to the clothes worn by peasants and kings, is an education in life at that time. There is a strong philosophical undercurrent in her writing insisting that you question the established order of history, religion and the deeds of men. Her presentation of the archangel Michael and God as having a rather suspect agenda is an interesting idea. However, this interest alone is not enough to support the book.

The main character is not likable. I don't mean he's a roguish anti-hero; he's actually not a nice person at all. He hates women. He thinks the vast majority of the population are sin-filled idiots straight on their way to hell. He is arrogant, obsessive and entirely uncompassionate. Douglas may be attempting to present him as a microcosm of the world at the time but it doesn't make for enjoyable reading. The very fact of its intended place as part one of a trilogy means the going is slow, the plot development spread thinly across nearly six hundred pages and the climaxes almost completely anti-climatic. Douglas' writing is patchy and her dialogue is terrible, either sledgehammer crude or esoterically meaningless.

'The Nameless Day' is more of a struggle to read than the plot is for the characters to push through. Its only saving grace is its portrayal of the minutiae of life at the time.

March Rogers