by Anna Richenda
*** About the Book ***
At the start of the story, Georgia is a nun in a small convent during the reign of Henry VIII & Katherine of Aragon. Georgia's main responsibility is caring for the relic of St. Isela, the patron saint of the convent. One night a baby girl is born in town, and this girl has a birthmark on her palm that matches Georgia's own birthmark. This is the sign the nuns have been waiting for; they believe this baby will bring their beloved St. Isela back into the world ... somehow.
This book is a work of Historical Fantasy.
*** Why I Read It ***
I received an email from the author asking if I'd be interested in reviewing this book. I grew up in the Catholic Church (though I attend a non-denominational church now) and have fond memories of nuns and saints so the book sounded intriguing to me.
*** My Thoughts ***
What a great book! I stumbled through the first chapter, not really sure what was going on or how the story was meant to begin. At that point I was thinking that I'd made a bad decision in agreeing to review this book. But I put more attention into reading and the story quickly picked up.
The best way to describe this book is to say that it is something like a Greek myth set in the context of the Catholic Church, backed up by excellent historical details. There is an epic story of a girl being rescued in a miraculous way by God. There are elements of the fantastical in the form of miracles, visions, and reincarnation (hence the reason that I classify it as Historical Fantasy). And there is a plethora of authentic period detail that immerses you in the characters' world.
The book starts by plopping the reader directly into the story without any background. That style of storytelling continues throughout the book, and often the backstory of a particular character - which might explain his/her motives - is left unexplained. After I finished reading there were questions left unanswered that I had hoped would be resolved. But that didn't take away from my enjoyment; rather it kept me on the edge of my seat until the end.
One quick note: For those who are getting rather tired of books about the Tudors (as I am), I'd like to point out that there is not much mention of them in this book. The royal court and its doings are more of the background than the actual story, a fact which I appreciated.
*** Historical Background ***
If you overlook the miraculous elements of this book you get a clear slice-of-life picture of this time and place.
In addition to being an author, Anna Richenda is also an historian whose focus is monastic history (read more at historyfish.net). Because of her background, she pays very close attention to historical detail in her book. I loved and appreciated this. From what I can tell through some cursory internet research Richenda really captures the realities of life in this time and place; from the medicines to the kitchens to the superstitions, she really nails it.
Saint Isela was not an actual saint as far as I can tell, but there are many, many legends of saints that are similar to this one.
*** Your Thoughts ***
Here are links to a few other reviews of this book. Can I add yours here? Let me know about it in the comments.
- Kay's Bookshelf enjoyed it and found the writing to be cinematic in its descriptions
- Historical Tapestry says it was interesting and original
- your review?