So, I am a huge Philippa Gregory fan! I have read almost all of her adult books. I read the entire The Other Boleyn Girl in a bookstore. And that my friends, is an accomplishment; the book is massive. I actually was not really impressed with the movie, despite my love for both starring ladies. But that’s beside the point. When I venture out of my kingdom of YA awesomeness, it’s usually on a quest for a good adult fantasy or historical fiction novel. And Gregory so knows how to write historical fiction! (My favorite is The Queen’s Fool).
This is her first YA book. I picked it up right after it came out. It’s different from her adult books because her adult books tend to be about actual people in history. And these characters are all fictional. That, and this was way less steamy…
The book is about two people: Luca and Isolde. Luca has been recruited by a special order (run by the Pope). He stood out to people as being overly curious and thoughtful, not necessarily great characteristics to have in a monastery in 1453. But instead of being burned to death or tortured, Luca is pulled aside to go on specials missions for the order, which believes the end of the world is approaching. He’s hired to seek truths and to lead inquiries. Inquiries in this case mean a formal way of asking a lot of questions to all people involved and figuring out who is guilty of what. He also needs to make sure that those guilty receive justice or punishment, all in the name of the Pope and God.
Isolde is a girl who just lost her father. She was brought up with a lot of money, land, and power. Her father planned on her maintaining the lands in Italy, and her brother taking over the lands in France. But, according to her brother, their father, on his deathbed changed his will. Isolde has to choose between marrying a close friend of her brother’s or joining the local nunnery. She is given no time to grieve, and the night she is to make her decision, her brother’s friend comes into her room and tries to take advantage of her. Isolde fights back with fire (literally), and knocks him unconscious. The next day, it is decided for her that she go to the nunnery.
How do these two characters meet up? Well, the first place Luca is mysteriously assigned to go is the nunnery Isolde is sent to. Apparently, since Isolde’s arrival there have been many strange occurrences. Girls have been sleep-walking, going mad, waking up with holes in their hands (as if they’ve been crucified), and the whole house seems to be in utter chaos. The first night Luca stays there, he witnesses a girl a sleep-walking who has the marks on her hands.
A series of interviews take place. And the longer Luca is there, the more it seems as though Isolde is the cause for all the problems. And while most of the book takes place at the nunnery, around the mystery of the nuns, a nice chunk of it takes place outside it, once it’s been decided that Isolde’s brother and the Lady Almoner were the guilty party. Yet, even though Isolde’s brother seriously schemed to get the land and the gold he learned that was part of it, there’s nothing really he can be accused of. Technically women at the time period were not entitled to inheritance. This doesn’t stop Isolde from coming up with a plan to try to win it back though!
There’s crazy nuns, gold, underground prisons, religion presented in a very scary light, kidnappings, horse riding, adventures, mysteries, a lot of truth finding, and a lot of beautiful historical background for this one. After the nunnery, the group of character set off to right more wrongs, and are immediately involved with a supposed werewolf! There’s hints of supernatural elements, though for the most part these are dismissed with logical reasoning.
I loved the side characters. Both Isolde and Luca had best friends that seriously made this novel work so well. Israq was by far one of my all time favorite characters! I loved how good she was at defending herself and her friend. I also loved how pretty the book was. It has a beautiful map inside and little drawings/illustrations scattered throughout.
I’m just not really sure as to why this particular topic was deemed YA. I found this period of history really interesting. It’s not a period I know a lot about, so I liked getting some new historical perspective. It’s just not necessarily the period I would choose to branch out into YA. A lot of it actually reminded me of the Canterbury Tales. I was an English major in college, and well, I love that book, but I don’t see a lot of young adults searching for read-a-likes of it.
I also felt like the layout was kind of weird. Like 85% took place in the nunnery, and I liked the stuff that happened outside of it; it’s really important. I just feel like that part could have extended more. The werewolf story was so much shorter than the nun story, and I really loved the werewolf story…Though, from reading the Author’s Note at the end, I learned that there will be more books in this series, so I guess more adventures are to come! I will certainly continue reading them I give this one a 8/10.