Gabriel is an 11-year-old, apprenticed to a greedy stonemason, some time during the years of the Black Death. He runs away to join an itinerant troupe of mummers, putting on mystery plays in villages and towns, a daring enterprise when the guilds usually did that job. After disaster hits the troupe, his role as angel becomes more important, and Garvey the playmaster fakes miracles to encourage people to flock to see the angel. Gabriel is an innocent dupe in this deception, half-believing that he really can work miracles. Finally, the players set to winter in a ghost town, which turns out to be deserted on account of the plague. Having encountered a plague-stricken townful of people, the players disband, Garvey repenting and going on pilgrimage to Walsingham.
The book portrays some of the naivety and credulity of the time, while not being an exercise in church-bashing. Gabriel’s innocence protects him from being drawn into the evils carried out by Garvey and Mason Colley who later teams up with him. The ending, where Gabriel approaches a nearby monastery for help in writing down the words of the plays which might otherwise be lost, is especially nice.
Tim Golden is a computer programmer living in London. He is also the editor of the Good-to-Read website.