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I read part of this book in high school, when I was about 14, during the mid-to-late 80s. I expect it was first published in late 70s or early 80s. I got it from my school library. I read it in England. It was published in English. Was a thin paperback book - maybe 200 pages.

It was a young adult, horror novel involving time travel. It’s stuck in my head because I found it genuinely disturbing.

It was one of a series involving twins (white, boy and girl, about 15 years old, nice, popular, friendly kids) and their younger cousin (white, about 12, very intelligent, bookish, antisocial, bullied) from England. It was set whenever the book was written (late 70s to early 80s).

From what I recall, the kids went to visit family in the countryside, the cousin went too. The twins didn’t like their cousin, and it was mutual.

They discovered historical links between where they were staying and the Black Death era (1350-ish).

Then they began travelling back in time to London during the Black Death.

I can’t recall how they travelled back in time or how it was triggered. It may have been while sleeping. But it was some form of magic/mystical power the protagonists couldn’t control or understand - not technology.

This wasn’t a fun time travel romp. The twins didn’t want to go - it terrified them - but the cousin wanted to know what and why it was happening. The twins definitely showed signs of extreme stress - I vaguely recall they planned to run away due to it. There was something Lovecraftian about their mental deterioration.

The descriptions of London and the Black Death were scary.

I stopped reading the book after a graphic scene when the cousin travelled back and woke up alone in the arms of a woman who had died from the plague hours before. He was trapped, as the woman was in rigor mortis and had been holding him in her arms tightly, so he had to fight his way free. Everyone else in the room was dead.

There was at least one other book featuring these characters - I think it had a folk horror theme, and featured “mummers” (English morality plays from the Middle Ages, performed in villages and towns). I was going to read it next, but this one freaked me out, so I didn’t.

I know it wasn’t a “Goosebumps” book, or one from a similar franchise. And I’m 99% sure the writer was English.

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  • So basically it was a novel with some illustrative drawings? – Clockwork Apr 12 at 9:24
  • A very similar plot; goodreads.com/book/show/9904384-the-lens-and-the-looker – Valorum Apr 12 at 10:09
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    @Clockwork No. It was a prose novel. No illustrations. – Richard Cosgrove Apr 12 at 11:29
  • Ah. By "graphic scene", you meant something that went into details. I took "graphic" literally. – Clockwork Apr 12 at 11:31
  • @Valorum Thanks, but that’s a very different plot. In the book I’m looking for the teens weren’t kidnapped, the time travel was due to magic/mystical forces, and the protagonists were from the 1970s/80s. – Richard Cosgrove Apr 12 at 12:21
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A Redditor found the book (or books).

Seems I was either remembering pieces of Ann Pilling's Black Harvest from her Dark Powers series, or my memory was combining elements from different books from the series.

The Dark Powers books are still in print.

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  • Excellent! Don't forget to self-accept once the 48 hours from asking is up. – FuzzyBoots Apr 14 at 14:17
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    @FuzzyBoots Is it 48 hours from when you make the post, I had to wait 10 hours to mark my answer as a solution after making the post. – Richard Cosgrove Apr 14 at 17:49
  • For self-accepts it is indeed 48 hours from when the question was asked. Four other people accepting, I think it's just a few minutes. – FuzzyBoots Apr 14 at 18:08
  • @FuzzyBoots Thanks! – Richard Cosgrove Apr 14 at 20:21
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Another possibility that involves a young brother and sister, with mystical aspects rather than a time travel machine, is Astercote by Penelope Lively, first published in 1970. From the author's website:

Astercote village is dead, its ruins lie hidden in the murky wood. Mair and her brother, Peter, come upon the deserted village by accident and there meet a youth who tells how the village was destroyed by the Black Death. They also learn of a long-guarded secret, and they are caught up in a superstitious fear as strange events unfold.

From The Haunted Generation, which has a different cover image:

One drowsy summers afternoon – and Lively’s descriptions of the weather and landscape are poetry in themselves – Peter and Mair learn of the village’s grim history when their dog, Tar, vanishes into the tangled, off-limits woodland that borders the remote World’s End Farm. Here, they discover the ruins of an abandoned medieval village, Astercote, whose 14th century inhabitants were wiped out completely by the Black Death, and whose remains – and a mystical chalice, whose presence in the woods purportedly ensures the disease will never return – are guarded by the seemingly sinister figure of Goacher.

From GoodReads:

Mair and Peter Jenkins have moved to the small village of Charlton Underwood from Wales, where their father has accepted a job of headteacher at the local primary school. Mair is accompanied at all times by her small terrier, Tar - who at the beginning of the story escapes into the wood to chase a peregrine. The children then discover that the wood is hiding many secrets, namely that it contains the village Astercote, abandoned in the time of the black death and left to become overgrown. Amongst the undergrowth and trees lie the ruins of the village - broken window frames and the remains of walls. This is the home of Goacher - a dishevelled and superstitious young man who lives in the woods with his collection of animals. He has talents as a healer and mends Tar's paw. Initially wary of the children and seemingly of modern phenomena such as aeroplanes passing overhead, he befriends the two and they learn his secret - a hidden chalice is buried under an oak tree. This he believes, protects the village from the black death.

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  • Thanks. But Astercote isn’t the book. As I said, the one I read had three protagonists and they travelled back to the Black Death era. – Richard Cosgrove Apr 13 at 9:20
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Could it be Connie Willis's Doomsday Book? It was published in 1992, so the protagonists could have been from the 1980s. It's got young people (but the main characters aren't as young as 15-16), time travel, Black Death... but other aspects are different.

Young historian Kirvin gets sent back to 1320s Oxford, but there's a malfunction and she lands in 1348 instead, during the Black Death. She gets stranded... She befriends some children in the 1320s time. Meanwhile, in her home time in the 21st century, an influenza pandemic is raging, infecting her technician and her professor. Eventually her professor recovers and figures out how to transport himself to her time and rescue her.

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  • It could be, but from the plot summary I read somewhere, she went alone into the past using a time travelling device at the university and went alone. So I think it's unlikely to be this one, if the asker did remember 3 characters going back. – Clockwork Apr 13 at 7:53
  • Thanks, but I wasn’t in high school in 1992. – Richard Cosgrove Apr 13 at 9:20
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    "in her home time in the 21st century, an influenza pandemic is raging" — ridiculously outlandish! – Paul D. Waite Apr 13 at 12:08
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    @PaulD.Waite I was promised various kinds of dystopias and jet packs. Jet packs should be along any time now… – Richard Cosgrove Apr 13 at 18:58
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    @Clockwork Oh, we’ve had those for a few years now. 🤣 bbc.com/future/article/… – Richard Cosgrove Apr 14 at 8:36

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