My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Goodreads: Italy, 1453. Seventeen-year-old Luca Vero is brilliant, gorgeous—and accused of heresy. Cast out of his religious order for using the new science to question old superstitious beliefs, Luca is recruited into a secret sect: The Order of the Dragon, commissioned by Pope Nicholas V to investigate evil and danger in its many forms, and strange occurrences across Europe, in this year—the end of days.
Isolde is a seventeen-year-old girl shut up in a nunnery so she can’t inherit any of her father’s estate. As the nuns walk in their sleep and see strange visions, Isolde is accused of witchcraft—and Luca is sent to investigate her, but finds himself plotting her escape.
Despite their vows, despite themselves, love grows between Luca and Isolde as they travel across Europe with their faithful companions, Freize and Ishraq. The four young people encounter werewolves, alchemists, witches, and death-dancers as they head toward a real-life historical figure who holds the boundaries of Christendom and the secrets of the Order of the Dragon.
The first in a series, this epic and richly detailed drama is grounded in historical communities and their mythic beliefs. It includes a medieval map of Europe that will track their journey; and the interior will include relevant decorative elements as well as an interior line illustration. And look for a QR code that links to a note from the author with additional, detailed information about the setting and the history that informed the writing. With Philippa Gregory’s trademark touch, this novel deftly brings the past—and its salacious scandals—vividly and disturbingly to life.
My thoughts: I have not read Philippa Gregory's books before, although I have two in my TBR pile. Rather than recount the plot, I will simply give what I found to be the strengths and weaknesses. Actually, there is only one weakness and it's minor.
The book is a historical fiction. The time period is when Christendom was falling apart as far as the Pope's extension of it. Luca is a young inquisitor who is inexperienced but willing to do what is right. His character is established quickly and he stays true to that persona. In fact, all of the main characters are well developed and stay true to their personalities. Peter is the experienced nay-sayer, Frieze, I can't say enough good about. He plays the intelligent fool who, when told to stop talking, he simply makes comments to his horse, instead. I loved him. Isolde is an unfortunate but strong protagonist who, with her Moorish companion, Ishraq, is a force to be reckoned with.
Although this is a series, the first book, at least, can stand on its own. It is the adventures of Luca who is following his assignments of inquiry which brings him to the Abbey where Isolde is Abbess. This story had me hooked completely. It was well developed and revealed, the character's interactions and lines well timed and delivered, and resolved nearly completely. That "nearly" gives the book a continued drive.
The only part I found weak was the last adventure as I thought it was too obvious and drawn out. On the other hand, we became much more acquainted with Ishraq and I look forward to more books and adventures with the characters. I really loved them.
*I received a free copy of this book from publishing company in exchange for an honest review. The opinions expressed here are my own.