Philippa Gregory's Changeling is the first in the Order of Darkness series, which is intended for a young adult audience.
The story takes place in 1453 Italy and involves the intersecting lives of Luca Vero and Isolde of Lucretili, both seventeen years old. Luca is a monk who has been singled out because he indulges in scientific inquiry. What could have gotten him excommunicated turns out to be a skill that the pope can use. Thanks to Luca's curious and methodical brain, he is recruited as an inquisitor, seeking out signs of the end of the time. He receives his orders one assignment at a time, so he never knows where his travels will take him.
Isolde was raised by her father to have an equal inheritance with her brother. She was to be one of the few medieval woman to have property of her own. Unfortunately, her brother blocks her inheritance and gives her the choice to marry or become abbess of the nunnery located on the family estates. She chooses the nunnery, although she has no religious calling and resents her loss of freedom. After she has taken her new position, she notices strange occurrences among the nuns, especially in the night. It is these phenomena that bring Luca to the nunnery.
Philippa Gregory is known for her skills at bringing the past to life, and Changeling is chockfull of fascinating historical details of medieval Italy. Gregory's focus is on the pope's inquiry into the end of times and on the contrasts among folk beliefs, the Catholic Church, and science. Luca's investigations are well done, and readers are caught up in how the teen will explain what he sees and what he's told. In addition, readers learn quite a bit about women's roles in the mid-1400s and the differences between Christian and Muslim women as well as between free women and nuns.
Despite these strengths, Changeling isn't a home run for Gregory. The main characters are likeable enough but are not endearing. Luca and Isolde's sidekicks are more interesting, offering comic relief (Frieze, the manservant) and a layer of mystery (Ishraq, Isolde's companion) to the story. But even so, the characters seem to be filling very specific roles to make very specific points.
Although the Changeling comes to a conclusion, it's clear the novel is part of a series. Luca's investigations are the draw that will have readers looking forward to book 2 because the relationships among the main characters are easy to predict, and Isolde's ultimate fate seems certain. Regardless, Gregory's first foray into the young adult market has potential, and I'm looking forward to seeing how the story progresses. Changeling is a short book and would be a good pick for poolside reading.
I listened to the unabridged audiobook edition (Simon & Schuster Audio; 6 hr, 45 min), read by actor Charlie Cox. My audio review will be available through AudioFile magazine, but the bottom line is that the book would have benefited from a stronger narrator. Bianca Amato reads the very interesting author's note at the end of the audiobook.
This review will be linked to Kid Konnection, hosted every Saturday by Julie at Booking Mama.
Published by Simon & Schuster / Simon Pulse, 2012
Source: Review (see review policy)
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