|Changeling (Order of Darkness #1) by Philippa Gregory|
Release Date: May 24, 2012
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Format: Hardcover, 256 pages
Source: Purchased from Barnes & Noble
"The hammering on the door shot him into wakefulness like a handgun going off in his face."
It 1453 Italy, and the vast amount of unsolved mysteries and curious events has led people to believe that it is the end of times. Seventeen-year-old Luca Vero has just been expelled from his monastery and recruited by a secretive order commanded by Pope Nicholas V in order to travel to the far reaches of the world, documenting and defeating the fears of Christendom. His first mission lands him in an abbey whose most recent Lady Abbess, Isolde, is facing accusations of witchcraft. Little does Luca know that both the abbey and Isolde have secrets of their own, and an inquisition into the strange sleepwalking and stigmata plagued inhabitants may uncover more mysteries than answers.
Changeling is Philippa Gregory's first young adult novel, coming from a firm background in writing historical fiction for the bodice-ripper set. Although the historical aspects of Changeling conjured up sincere images of medieval life, including the lore and mania surrounding superstitious beliefs and accusations, the first book in the Order of Darkness series left much to be desired. The pacing of the story was very strange, as the aforementioned plot surrounding the abbey is resolved in a little over halfway through the book, leaving the remainder of the book open for another inquiry in a whole other town. Then the story just sort of abruptly ends, with no real leads into the next book. The novel is also told from alternating perspectives, between that of the inquisitor Luca Vero and the recent Lady Abbess Isolde. I am usually not a fan of this type of storytelling, but I think it really worked for this particular novel, as it is meant to showcase how people from different backgrounds assess and react to their situations, which is basically the entire point of the story.
"'You didn't pursue him for all the sins since Adam! Though I am responsible for everything done by Eve?"
One of the aspects that I really appreciated was the attention to gender discrimination which was prominent during this time period. Women were expected to behave a certain way, dress a certain way, and basically listen to whatever her male guardian told her to do. If she so much as challenged the status quo, she would often be tried for heresy or witchcraft, and sentenced to death, often without a fair trial. Such is the case with our female protagonist, Isolde. Her initial role is that of partial heir to the lands of the House of Lucretili, but after her father's death, it is allegedly revealed that it was written in their father's will that she choose between marrying a wealthy man or sent to the nunnery. Guess which one she chooses. To add insult to injury, a string of bizarre incidents occur shortly after her arrival at the abbot, and she is accused of these crimes. Blame is also placed on her friend and helper, Ishraq, a Moorish girl whom is believed to be a witch due to her foreign blood, dark skin, and strange practices, and is also questioned in regards to her relationship with Isolde due to their closeness. Ishraq proves to be quite a force to be reckoned with, and shows time and again how a woman can endure discrimination and still be a badass. I found myself relating more to Ishraq than the rather timid Isolde, although this may be an unfair comparison due to their wildly different upbringings.
"'It is my new ambition. It's my new word: reticent.'"
As far as characters go, I found myself drawn to the side characters more so than the leads. The bickering and subsequent relationship of Frieze and Ishraq was vastly more interesting than that between Luca and Isolde, who have about as much chemistry as a bear and a kettle. Luca Vero, our lead male, is about as dull as they come. Sure, he might be kind and intelligent, but he lacks any sort of personality that would deem him interesting. He also has no problem accusing the women of heresy and witchcraft during his inquiry, but as soon as he sees how beautiful Isolde is when her hood slips off, it's game over for him and he has to rethink his entire life. What magic! Now Frieze, on the other hand, is a horse of a different color. He's quirky, funny, has character enough for himself and Luca, and is a honey-tongued devil of a man. Even if the romance between him and Ishraq never takes off, their relationship is still quite charming.
"'If I let them kill it without a word of protest, what would stop them from coming for me?'"
Changeling (Order of Darkness #1) is not without its issues, but I am such a fan of Frieze and Ishraq that I feel compelled to continue reading the series. Readers may find the story to be a bit obscure, but the mystery aspects are present, and the whole novels reads like a rather quick episode of some serialized historical mystery. The characters may resonate with certain people, but I found both Luca and Isolde to be a bit bland for my palette. Those who like their characters with a bit of spice will find Frieze and Ishraq to be wholly unique additions to the YA market, especially the strong-willed female, Ishraq. Although the pacing of the story was a bit strange, it was still an enjoyable start to what I hope will pan out to be quite an elaborate series as well as a grand statement on how hysteria can distort people's perceptions of reality.
"'I will stay with you...While our roads lie together.'"
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