02 July 2012

Review: Changeling by Philippa Gregory

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.

Buy Changeling at Powell's, at an Indie, at Book Depository, or at a bookstore near you. These links lead to affiliate programs.
Published by Simon & Schuster / Simon Pulse, 2012
ISBN-13: 9781442453449
Source: Review (see review policy)
Rating: B-
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)


Sandra 7/2/12, 6:56 AM  

Thanks for the review. I've been curious about this one, having read her adult books in the past. I love historicals, and don't think there are enough YA books set in the period.

bermudaonion 7/2/12, 8:35 AM  

Historical fiction and I don't always play nice together so this may not be the book for me. I bet most of my book club friends would love it though.

Swapna 7/2/12, 9:10 AM  

I'll probably read this one, just because I love Gregory, but it's good to know I need to temper my expectations. Thanks for the review!

Daryl 7/2/12, 9:35 AM  

another good reco for my friend's daughter .. thanks!

Zibilee 7/2/12, 9:54 AM  

I really enjoy Gregory's work, but have been less excited the farther she has moved from the Tudor period. It's not that I can only enjoy Tudor fiction, it's that I think she does her best work with the players in that particular drama. I didn't really enjoy her last series all that much, however, I am looking forward to reading this one. I have always thought that she would excel at YA historicals. Great review today!

Julie P. 7/2/12, 12:37 PM  

Odd. Everything about this should have worked.

Amy 7/2/12, 2:33 PM  

Well it's good to know that at least it wasn't terrible! :P

Beth F 7/2/12, 2:43 PM  

Amy -- not at all terrible, but just not what I've come to expect from Gregory.

Unknown 7/2/12, 5:14 PM  

I'm a fan of Gregory's so I have been keeping an eye out for reviews of Changeling. I'm disappointed that it wasn't as great as we all expected from her.

Anonymous,  7/3/12, 9:35 AM  

I'll probably read this just because I'm a fan of Gregory, but I'm thinking I'll skip the audio.

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