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We All Fall Down - Stories of Plague and Resilience

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In this anthology, USA Today, international bestselling, and award-winning authors imagine a world where anyone—rich, poor, young, old—might be well in the morning and dead by sundown.

Readers will follow in the footsteps of those who fought to rebuild shattered lives as the plague left desolation in its wake.

* An Irish woman tends her dying father while the Normans threaten her life and property—

* A Hispano-Muslim doctor fights the authorities to stem the spread of the deadly pestilence at great personal cost—

* A Tuscan street hawker and a fresco painter watch citizens perish all around them even as they paint a better future—

* A Spanish noblewoman lives at the mercy of a jealous queen after plague kills the king—

* The Black Death leaves an uncertain legacy to Dante’s son—

* In Venice, the artist Titian agonizes over a death in obscurity—

* A Scottish thief loses everything to plague and repents in the hope of preventing more losses—

* Two teenagers from 2020 time-travel to plague-stricken London and are forever changed—

* And when death rules in Ottoman-occupied Greece, a Turk decides his own fate. 

Nine tales bound together by humanity’s fortitude in the face of despair: a powerful collection of stories for our own time.

In dark and deadly times, love and courage shine bright.

200 pages, ebook

First published March 1, 2020

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David Blixt

50 books168 followers

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Displaying 1 - 19 of 19 reviews
Profile Image for Paul Trembling.
Author 25 books14 followers
February 29, 2020
The Black Death - bubonic plague - hangs over our history like a distant shadow. Something that we vaguely know was terrible, but is safely back in the distant past. Few of us have any concept of just how terrible it was for the people who lived in those times.

This collection of short stories by different authors gives us an insight into that, and shows us the horror of families and whole communities wiped out, entire regions devastated. It also shows how difficult it was to fight back against this disease without advanced medical knowledge and scientific tools. The greatest experts of the day were as helpless as any uneducated commoner, the rich and powerful were as vulnerable as the poor. The measures taken were often harsh (as in forcible quarantine) usually based on superstition or hearsay, and mostly ineffective.

The knock-on effects of the plague were in some cases as devastating as the disease itself. The long term effects on politics, economies and the lives of the survivors are not overlooked.

And yet, in the midst of this, some of the finest strengths of the human spirit showed themselves. In the worst of circumstances, there are still those who are brave, those who care about others, those who love, those who have hope. There is sadness and even horror in these stories, but there is also encouragement. In the midst of suffering, there was the great painter who's chief concern was for his son, the preacher who cared to ease a child's guilt, the galley slave who discovered joy (to pick just a few examples).

A variety of styles and a wide range of characters give us an amazing insight into the effects of the plague in many countries and over many centuries. This collection brings home the human experience from some of the darkest times of the past.
Profile Image for Kim Rendfeld.
Author 5 books46 followers
April 2, 2020
I must admit to a morbid fascination with the Black Death and its impact on Western culture. As we deal with the chaos caused by COVID-19 in 2020, the stories in “We All Fall Down” feel much more relevant. (The timing of the book’s release is coincidental.)

The authors feature characters in diverse religions and diverse social classes. The Black Death was no respecter of wealth and power. When the reader looks at the stories collectively, they see everyone is vulnerable—from a king to a successful artist to a family of impoverished immigrants wanting a better life. And its effects range from one family’s devastation to the changed fates of entire cities and nations. The stories convey many emotions—love, hope, despair, grief, courage, and resilience.

Like us, the characters in “We All Fall Down” are faced with a widespread disease causing disruption, economic strain, and death. These stories show our past at different places and times in history, addressing profound questions. How do we go on when our everyday life is so torn apart? How do we find hope amid great loss?

I enjoyed this book immensely and highly recommend it.
Profile Image for Sarah.
Author 4 books162 followers
October 19, 2020
I wasn’t always a fan of historical short stories. The format seemed too concise to support the world-building and character depth necessary for the genre. But the more I read, the more I grew to appreciate them. Short stories are powerfully concentrated in terms of character, plot, and historical detail. When done right, the length suits the material perfectly.

Several weeks ago, I watched a Zoom panel, “Stories of Plague in the time of Covid,” sponsored by the Historical Novel Society NYC Chapter, over my lunch hour. A collection of international authors who contributed to the We All Fall Down anthology spoke about their stories and took questions. It was one of the best online panels I’ve seen, and now that I’ve read the book, I’m tempted to watch it again.

The book was conceptualized long before the current pandemic, and it’s eerie how well some situations in the nine tales reflect our time. All are set during periods of the Black Death between the 14th and 17th centuries: stories of sorrow, grief, family, love, art, beauty, and the strength to survive after immense loss.

Kristin Gleeson’s “The Blood of the Gaels,” set in Ireland in 1348, follows a young novice as she travels home to her family after getting word of her father’s illness. This unpredictable story has hints of mystery as it showcases the religion, folk beliefs, and laws of the time.

“The Heretic” by Lisa J. Yarde introduced me to a less familiar period, 14th-century Moorish Spain, and to the historical figure of Ibn al-Khatib, personal secretary to the sultan, who observes how the plague is spreading and develops controversial views about how to lessen its severity. I highlighted multiple passages that felt historically relevant and uncannily familiar to today.

Following a girl as she hawks elixirs with her motley group of faith-healers and fraudsters on their travels through 14th-century Siena, Laura Morelli’s “Little Bird” draws readers into the world of the Lorenzetti painters as the “Great Mortality” lands in the city – perhaps, as was thought, as punishment for its residents’ sins. This was one of my favorites, for its re-creation of the tools of the artists’ workshop and the glories of medieval Siena: “The cathedral is a chamber of echoing footsteps and pigeon wings, lit by dozens of gilded altarpieces shimmering in the candlelight.”

As a reader interested in fiction about little-known royal figures, I appreciated J. K. Knauss’s illustration of the life of Leonor de Guzmán, mistress of Alfonso XI of Castile, and the challenges she faces after he dies of plague in 14th-century Seville.

With the poignantly meditative “On All Our Houses,” set in Gargagnago, Italy, in 1362, David Blixt revisits his character Pietro Alighieri (Dante’s son) later in life. Aged 64, Pietro reflects on his existence and the fearsome inevitability of death as his eldest daughter Betha lies dying of plague.

Moving ahead to Venice (Venezia) in 1576, Jean Gill’s “A Certain Shade of Red,” replete with historical detail and symbolism, is narrated by Death himself as he observes the famous painter, Tician (Titian), dying of pestilence, and at earlier moments in his life. Then, as now, political leaders make choices about public health vs. the economy; these passages hit home.

“The Repentant Thief” by Deborah Swift stars an Irish immigrant boy in 1645 Edinburgh who steals a coin and locket from a tenement he’s broken into and then, as plague spreads, worries he’s brought God’s wrath down on his family. Historical atmosphere, well-wrought characters, realistic dialogue, pertinent themes, and a great ending: they’re all here.

Demonstrating the state of health care at the time, Katherine Pym’s “Arrows that Fly in the Dark” takes the perspective of time-traveling youths who inhabit the bodies of a physician’s apprentices in 1665 London. They find their master’s techniques for protecting against plague distasteful and sometimes ridiculous.

Lastly, “778” by Melodie Winawer, a tale of regret and resilience, shows how the rapidly shifting political climate in 17th-century Mystras, Greece, affects everyone in a Turkish man’s household. The arrival of plague adds to the heightened tensions.

A wide-ranging, rich collection of human experiences, all contained in a collection of fewer than 200 pages. This was a personal purchase.

Cross-posted from the review at Reading the Past.
Profile Image for Mary Yarde.
Author 6 books137 followers
April 28, 2020

“In my youth, I imagined what Death was like. I tried to picture my own death. I remember hoping for a “good” death. As if there could be such a thing.”
"On All Our Houses" by David Blixt

It was a pestilence, an epidemic, a plague. History would remember it as den sorte død — The Black Death. But while those who survived tried to rebuild their lives, this was not the end. For the plague would come again and it would take more sons, daughters, fathers, mothers, and it would change the course of history forever…

We All Fall Down - Stories of Plague and Resilience by Kristin Gleeson, Lisa J. Yarde, Laura Morelli, J. K. Knauss, David Blixt, Jean Gill, Deborah Swift, Katherine Pym, Melodie Winawer is a collection of short stories that explores what life was like when The Black Death came calling.

Told with an enthralling sense of time and place, We All Fall Down - Stories of Plague and Resilience is a fascinating, if somewhat harrowing story, of nine very different people as the plague touches their lives with devastating consequences. From pauper to king, the plague did not differentiate. It struck without warning and killed, sometimes in hours. This is a novel which will resonate very much with today’s readers.

The short-stories in this book are richly detailed and emotionally charged, which left me reaching for the tissues on more than one occasion. The compelling narrative that captured the despair, the fear and the heartache, evoked a world where diseases were not understood, and the cures were often more brutal than the illness itself. The complete lack of understanding of the plague and the almost cavalier attitude that the economy and trade was more important than saving lives is played out with all of its greed. While the rich hid behind their high walls, the rest of the population was left to fend for itself. It is a stark reminder of how fragile life is and how money does not ensure immunity.

Kristin Gleeson takes her readers on a journey to Clyde in the middle of the 14th Century. This incredible story, set within the backdrop of the plague, demonstrates the evils of man as one individual tries to use the plague as a way to increase his own profits. “The Blood of the Gaels” is a story that I really enjoyed. Not only is it a story of death and disaster, but it is also one of love and hope. It was a fabulous book to open this anthology with.

We travel back in time to 17th Granada in Lisa J. Yarde’s “The Heretic”. Ibn al-Khatib dared to explore theories about how the disease was transmitted and much to the abhorrence of everyone else, how to contain it. This book gives the readers an intimate insight into the suffering and loss that Ibn al-Khatib suffered during this tragic period of history. I thought this book was exceptionally well written and incredibly insightful into the period and the man.

"Little Bird" by Laura Morelli was a wonderful story about a young girl who travels across medieval Tuscany with a band of cure sellers! I loved this story so much. Morelli gives her readers an intimate insight into the life of a travelling tradesman. The lengths they will go to, to sale their wares, were really quite extraordinary. Ironically, these so-called healers helped to spread this terrible disease. I thought Little Bird was fabulous from start to finish, and I could have easily read a full-length novel about this young girl’s adventures.

J. K. Knauss' lavish attention to the historical detail in her fabulous story "Footsteps" has to be commended. Oh, how I loved this story. Knauss' depiction of Leonor Núñez de Guzmán y Ponce de León was sublime. This is a story that captured the essence of the era. Wonderful, wonderful storytelling.

We travel next to Gargagnago, Italy, where a father is contemplating life as his daughter's body is ravished with the plague. "On All Our Houses" by David Blixt is a heartbreakingly tender story of a man who has to watch the people he loves succumb to the plague while he, for some reason, does not. This is a story that really draws the reader in and does not let go until that final full stop.

Told from Deaths point of view "A Certain Shade of Red" by Jean Gill sent shivers down my spine. Portraying the final hours of Renaissance artist Tiziano “Titian,” Vecell, Gill has penned an utterly enthralling story. This story really captured my imagination and I loved every second of it. My only complaint was that it was much too short!

My favourite story in this anthology was "The Repentant Thief" by Deborah Swift. Swift sweeps her readers back to 17th Century Edinburgh where the authorities try to contain the plague by moving the inflicted and those who had been in contact with the disease into makeshift camps. This story is a tear-jerking tale about a young boy who thinks he has brought the plague down upon his family because he stole a necklace. The horrific conditions of the camp and the swiftness of the disease are portrayed in all of its horrifying detail. This is a story that will stay with me for a long time.

Taking a slightly different approach, Katherine Pym has presented her readers with a time-travelling tale in "Arrows that Fly in the Dark." The two young protagonists fall through time to plague-ridden London. With modern-day knowledge, the protagonists can only watch and observe as the doctor tends his patients. I think this would be the last place any time-traveller would want to end up and I thought this story was really refreshing and exceptionally real in the telling. Being thrown into an era where medical advances were slow and basic hygiene was not observed is a terrible thing to witness. Kudos Ms Pym for thinking outside of the box.

We are heading to 17th century Greece in the last short-story in this anthology. "778" by Melodie Winawer was enchanting from start to finish and one I simply could not put down. From the meticulously researched history to the sumptuously addictive narrative, this is the kind of story that threatens to mesmerise.

We All Fall Down - Stories of Plague and Resilience is an ambitious but very successful anthology. The topic may be dark, but the stories are marvellous. And the stories are short enough to be enjoyed over a quick coffee break.

I Highly Recommend.

Review by Mary Anne Yarde.
The Coffee Pot Book Club.
Profile Image for Lesley Walters.
13 reviews
February 29, 2020
We all Fall Down - Stories of plague and resistance

Being fascinated by both medieval history and beyond in general and the bubonic plague in particular, I was delighted to come across this anthology. Familiarity with the work of a couple of the contributing authors added to my anticipation.

These stories take us all over Europe, from the British Isles through Spain, Italy, Turkey... the plague respected no boundaries. But while tragedy inevitably permeates each story, they are as much about human fortitude, altruism and love as they are about death. Indeed, in some of the stories it takes great adversity to reveal amazing strength of character, and, of course, less gracious characteristics too.

Take Finn, the Irish immigrant child “plagued” by his own deceit and determined to restore justice while those dealing out justice are doing anything but. (The Repentant Thief by Deborah Swift)

Or the man who thinks he has everything only to learn what everything really is. (778 by Melody Winawer)

Two of my favourites have art as their theme, and what an era for art they cover, from the iconoclastic works of the 1300s (Little Bird by Laura Morelli) to Titian, who gave his name to “a certain shade of red” in the 16th century (A Certain Shade of Red by Jean Gill).

Laura Morelli’s “Little Bird” centres on travellers who move from one Italian town to another, exploiting religious superstition by presenting a child, our Little Bird, marked with the Stigmata. It is fake, of course, but the pigments used to stain her hands and feet draw the curiosity of an artist’s daughter. There begins an adventure that changes the life of Little Bird. When an outbreak plague forces her troupe to move on hastily, that which imprisons many liberates our brave heroine.

Jean Gill’s “A Certain Shade of Red” is told by the Grim Reaper himself. This fascinating and dispassionate narrator shows us the plague in all its gruesomeness. Yet there is love, and beauty, and art. We follow Titian’s journey from a young boy sent to Venice to become apprenticed to an artist, to the accomplished artist we recognise. Will Death grant the great artist a special request? You’ll have to read it to find out!
Profile Image for Helen Hollick.
Author 51 books508 followers
April 2, 2020
Somewhat topical - how did the authors know? The subject - the pandemics of Plague - might not appeal to everyone given the surreal circumstances of life world-wide at the moment ... on the other hand many readers might find the topic highly fascinating. Plague (or in our present case Coronavirus Covid 19) is nothing new...

As with all anthologies, some of the included stories appeal, others not so much; it is all a matter of personal taste and preference. Some stories in a collection are memorable or leave you thinking while some, for various reasons, do not linger in the mind quite as much - but I was delighted to discover that the former of these observations is true for the majority of stories in this intelligent creation with the general theme of 'plague'.

I did enjoy all the stories to varying degrees, although I must admit that some were better than others and a couple left me feeling a little depressed - which, actually, is no reflection on the stories but on the skill of the writers who brought home the general feeling of hopeless tragedy that those poor people of the past had to endure when Plague struck a community, town or country. The fortitude, the despair, the hope, the tragedy all come over in every story to catch at your heart, and at the end of each either bring a sigh of relief or a surreptitious tear.
A very interesting read by a host of very good authors.

Originally Reviewed for Discovering Diamonds
Profile Image for Jenny.
1,007 reviews12 followers
March 23, 2020
An anthology of stories by nine different authors imagining a world where anyone from the rich to the poor, and the young to the old might be well in the morning and dead by sundown, as the “Plague has no favourites”. “Nine tales bound together by humanity's fortitude in the face of despair: a powerful collection of stories for our own time”.
Although the stories in this book are about illness and death from the plague they are also as the title suggests about people’s resilience during these times. The over all message of the book is that,“In dark and deadly times, love and courage shine bright”.
The stories range in time period from the Norman’s to time travelling teenagers from 2020, they also cover the world and are set in, for example, Tuscan, Greece, Venice and Scotland. I was familiar with a few of the authors and their stories didn’t disappoint and I’ve also been introduced to new authors who’s stories I enjoyed. As the blurb states,“Readers will follow in the footsteps of those who fought to rebuild shattered lives as the plague left desolation in its wake”.
I found this book a fascinating read and it was aptly timed in its release, just as the world is suffering from the Coronavirus, Covid 19. I found the book gives some hope that we have suffered before and humanity has always overcome and I hope that will be the case this time. I recommend the book.
Profile Image for Beccy Thompson.
761 reviews13 followers
March 30, 2020
I received a copy of this book from TBC Reviewers request- Thank you
Wow what a time to be reading about the Black Death whilst deep in the Coronavirus situation of the modern times.
A very engaging collection of short stories that really helped to bring to life some of the potential situations of the time of the black death
A good mixture of authors and genres- thank you
10.1k reviews112 followers
March 9, 2020
Wow. What a collection of short stories. We learn what it was like during the time of the Black Death. Impossible to imagine. Intriguing
Profile Image for Kamini Mehta.
423 reviews5 followers
March 28, 2020
Snapshots of lives upended by plague. Surreal reading in our current times. A mix of viewpoints, written by a collection of talented authors.
Profile Image for Lexi.
Author 18 books15 followers
March 23, 2020
I’d got this before I realised that Covid-19 was going to hit, so it’s a bit freaky to read right now. But the stories are excellent and the global setting adds an extra dimension. I’d only read Bu one author before (Jean Gill) which is why I got the collection, but all the stories are worthy of their space.
March 28, 2020
I purchased this when the coronavirus scare began. I have always loved "plague fiction" and thought the timing was perfect to read these short stories. I was disappointed. If you are looking for a good fictional account of the plague, one of the very best books is Geraldine Brooks' "Year of Wonders". There is nothing riveting in this selection and at least one of them is downright silly -- involving time travel. These authors were asked if they wanted to contribute to this collection so this is not a critique of their writing, but the history of the plague through the centuries contains much more in the way of bravery and resilience than you will find in these pages. Really nothing new or even compelling here.
3 reviews
March 11, 2020
Although I found this collection of short stories to be unsettling in this time of coronavirus pandemic, I was drawn into the 14th to 17th century worlds in which these tales were set, where the plague was cast as God's vengeance against a sinning people. Medieval medicine, with all its leeches, herbs and poultices, was as powerless to prevent or "cure" the Black Death as modern medicine is to "cure" Covid-19. However, the take-away is that these stories don't just dwell on the hideous, pervasive and terrible - they highlight the resilience and endurance of the human spirit, so despite all the unknowns, is a thought for readers to hold.
Profile Image for Erin.
498 reviews23 followers
April 30, 2020
What will be written about us?!

More than resonating with the characters or absorbing their stories...I am inspired to wonder what will be written about us in the wake of coronavirus...will we be remembered as shouts to bring out your dead and children's nursery rhymes or will the heights and depths of humanity linger?

Some of these stories breathed life into their meager page counts...but, others seemed like disjointed scenes from books waiting to be written.

Not truly the anthology I wanted...but, certainly one I won't forget. Perhaps, timing more than writing creates the stories that will stay with us.
Profile Image for Emily Stein.
5 reviews5 followers
August 27, 2021
Some great gems in here

Some stories were really good, others not so much.
Maybe it's because I prefer the earlier times which are at the beginning to middle of the book (first 5), but as I read on the last few stories weren't captivating.

A good read during COVID 19 times. Some very familiar themes of lockdown, quarantine and fear in this book which were summed up nicely by the last page which talked about human resilience.
Profile Image for Pam Chantrell.
539 reviews11 followers
March 11, 2020
Not the best of books to read in the era of Coronavirus. I'm still not too sure how to rate the book. It felt a little bit thrown together with some good stories and some that I didn't enjoy too much. My enjoyment was probably clouded with the recent news reports of our own modern day plague however.
Profile Image for Sue Wallace .
5,888 reviews61 followers
April 1, 2020
We all fall down by Jean Gill.
This is a collection of 9 stories about the black plague.
Including from author's as David Blixt Jean Gill and Kirstin Gleeson.
A very good read. Out of all at least 2 were my favourite. 4*.
Profile Image for Pamela Schoenewaldt.
Author 5 books105 followers
October 19, 2022
In these pandemic times, readers of historical fiction will find deep resonance with stories of the Black Death and other pandemics. In this short story collection, editor J. K. Knauss asks nine award-winning writers for their take on the theme: “Plague has no favorites.”

Most stories are set in the time of the Black Death (ca. 1347), but we also journey to Ireland after the Norman Invasion and Ottoman-occupied Greece, and time-travel between 2020 and London in plague times. The Black Death (then termed “The Great Mortality”) swept across the known world. Paupers, slaves, wealthy merchants, a king’s mistress, and those around great artists like Dante and Titian all suffered.

Readers will also read how, without modern scientific equipment, brilliant minds struggled to understand the causes of bubonic plague and how it might be fought, often coming astonishingly close to the truth.

Most of the authors are novelists and thus writing out of their habitual format. Perhaps as a result, several stories seem over-freighted with historical fact, scene-setting, or a multiplicity of characters, which can be cumbersome in a short story. In the best of these entries, we follow a single character’s quest for love, salvation, and survival against the backdrop of an epidemic which shredded the social fabric and destroyed all certainties. Each story is followed by an author statement of the inspiration, background, and historical sources of the narrative.

Originally reviewed in Historical Novel Review
666 reviews1 follower
June 30, 2022
An anthology of stories about the Black Death might be odd reading for most people during a pandemic, but not for me. Some of my favorite novels take place when the bubonic plague swept across the world in the 14th century, and returned several times over the years. Sadly, most of these stories were a bit disappointing, but two stood out for me: I really liked "Little Bird" and "Footsteps" a lot. Their excellence raised my rating to 2 stars.
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