Why I Read It: It’s been a while since I read Philippa Gregory & I was excited to explore her new series.
Where I Got It: The library.
Who I Recommend This To: If you enjoy a fast-paced 15th century adventure perpetrated by young folks, you should check this book out.
Publisher: Simon Pulse (2012)
Length: 256 pages
Series: Book 1 Order of Darkness
Set in 1400s Italy, this historical fiction romp focuses on four young people. Luca Viero is a brilliant young man who questions everything, which gets him in trouble with his religious order of which he is a novitiate. Soon, he finds himself working for the Order of the Dragon tasked to seek out the strange, the wicked, and the holy, to investigate it, and send reports to his lord who passes the reports on to the pope. On this adventure is his childhood friend Freize, a more earthly young man with a sense of humor, and Brother Peter, acting as clerk, who tries his best to keep the two young men out of trouble. Isolde was left without an inheritance upon her father’s deathbed, her brother forcing her into a nunnery to act as Abbess. Her faithful friend and childhood servant Ishraq, of Arabic heritage, follows her into the nunnery. There, strange visions, stigmata, and hints of witchcraft afflict the women. Luca is sent to investigate.
This was a very fast paced story. Once Philippa Gregory had the scenery set, she turned her characters loose to entertain the reader. Even though this novel is not particularly in depth with historical facts, I still found myself looking forward to the story every night. I had an instant, if not close, connection to the characters. We could easily see Luca’s anticipation as he sets off into the world to uncover evil or bring to the light holy occurrences. I could easily imagine Isolde’s frustration given her two choices upon her father’s death: marriage to a much older man or entering a nunnery. The side characters were entertaining and added depth to tale. I have to say that Freize was my favorite character, often having the best lines. I also had the overall impression that he was a bit more mature than the other three, given his role in life of actually working for a living. Ishraq was by turns fascinating and occasionally unbelievable. She comes from a different culture and yet has lived all her life in this Italian culture as a servant. The few unbelievable parts were when someone in the story had to be the keeper of some vast knowledge – like medicine – so the 17 year-old Ishraq was the trained doctor. But I was able to easily overlook these few smidgens where I had difficulty suspending my disbelief because I was enjoying the larger story arc.
While the over all plot was a little predictable, I enjoyed the little twists to how Luca figured out what was going on, and then averted disaster. Of course, there is the growing interest between Luca and Isolde for a side romance to add to the overall tension of the tale. Can’t say the same for Freize and Ishraq, but their interactions are even more amusing.
What I Liked: the setting; the characters were each distinct and accessible to the reader; the mystery, while classic, was still fun to watch unfold.
What I Disliked: Ishraq has skills and knowledge well beyond her years, experiences, and setting.
What Others Think: