If you had to choose between marrying a grotesque, ill-mannered man and being sent away to a nunnery never to marry at all, which would you select? In an age where novels find the heroine caught between two lovers, it seems like a difficult task to choose an option that leaves you with no love at all. But such is the choice for 17-year-old Isolde in "Changeling" by Philippa Gregory (author of "The Other Boleyn Girl").
The novel transports you back to Italy in 1453. When her father dies, Isolde's brother insists their late father's will leaves her with only those two choices—when previously it said that Isolde was to inherit all the land in the surrounding kingdom. After her brother's friend—aforementioned grotesque man—tries to force himself into her bed, Isolde resigns herself to the nunnery as Lady Abbess, vowing a life of celibacy and without fortune. But she is not completely alone, she brings along her friend from childhood—Ishraq, a Moorish girl who was raised alongside Isolde as a sister.
Upon their arrival at the convent, strange things begin happening. The nuns start having weird vision, sleep walking and awaking with bloody wounds on their hands. All the signs point back to Isolde and Ishraq and their only hope is a handsome inquisitor by the name of Luca Vero to clear their names.
Luca finds himself expelled from his monastery due to heresy accusations until a stranger from the Order of Darkness recruits him to map the end of times across Europe. Luca must use his intelligence and intuition to decipher good from evil and God's work from the devil's.
When Luca arrives at the abbey, he believes Isolde may be innocent of the accusations thrust upon her. But when a nun mysteriously dies and Isolde and Ishraq are found with blood on their hands, they must figure out who's really behind all the madness before they're burned at the stake for witchcraft.
"Changeling" is a captivating start to the "Order of Darkness" series. Adventure, hints of romance, mystery and fantasy collide in a fascinating story that leaves readers wanting more. My only complaint is that the book is called "Changeling." Luca is mentioned as such throughout the story, but the word is never explained. What is a changeling? What does that mean for Luca? Is it a good thing or a bad thing? He denies being a changeling, saying that it was just talk in the village—why? I'm sure the questions will be answered in books to come, but the novel ended almost too suddenly without a hint at a possible answer.
Despite my burning questions, I enjoyed getting to know Philippa's characters. Luca is the hero of the story, always trying to protect the innocent and condemn the guilty. His servant Freize adds a lot of comic relief. While he reminds me of the fools in William Shakespeare's plays, like those characters, he also has a great deal of common sense. Isolde and Ishraq are both feisty females with good intentions. Because I began to care for Luca and his companions, I look forward to traveling with them again as they continue to uncover the secrets in all of Christendom.
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