Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Changeling (Order of Darkness #1), Philippa Gregory

Title: Changeling
Author: Philippa Gregory (author website)
Release Date: May 4th 2012 by Simon & Schuster Australia
Age Group: Young Adult
Genre: Historical
My Rating:1 star2 star3 star

Philippa Gregory's first venture into the Young Adult market was sure to garner attention. And surely enough, here we have Changeling, her first fully speculative novel, and her first aimed at Young Adults. Is it everything one would hope for and expect? Well, that depends on your expectations...

From Goodreads:
Dark myths, medieval secrets, intrigue, and romance populate the pages of the first-ever teen series from #1 bestselling author of The Other Boleyn Girl

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.

The Story

Seventeen year old Luca has been cast out of his monastary, accused of heresy. Alone in a cell, he awaits what he believes is his death. Instead, he is offered a second chance: use his brilliant analytical mind to debunk conspiracies, separate folklore and myth from the work of true evil. Become an Inquisitor for the Catholic Church. He takes it.

Meanwhile, beautiful, headstrong and wise seventeen year old Isolde mourns her father. Raised to inherit his lands and castle, she is horrified to learn his will betrays her: she is left with nothing. She may choose to marry a repulsive, abusive prince with little dowry, or take a vow of celibacy as a nun.

Months later, young Inquisitor Luca Vero travels to a nunnery plagued by whispers of stigmata, visions, possession, and its young mistress, a beautiful young girl named Isolde, is a key suspect. Unable to control events in the abbey, the two are thrown together, into a web of mystery, intrigue and mistrust... which may just be the start of something no-one ever expected...

My Thoughts

Changeling is a difficult book to profile. It's neither fast nor slow paced, but instead plods along, hopping from steady and measured to nail biting tension from one page to the next. Its various mysteries are cryptic and engaging, but most importantly, well developed. The most wicked of characters are still nasty and pernicious, but believable, with enough back story to lend their actions authenticity. But despite its well-developed mysteries, Changeling is a short book, weighing in at only two-hundred and fifty pages, and it’s characterisation that seems to suffer the most from its length. With constant mid-scene head hopping between five point of view characters, there simply isn’t enough time develop each beyond the surface, or at the very least, for the reader to connect with them. Interestingly enough, it is not the titular 'changeling', Luca, or heroine, Isolde, that are the best explored, or indeed, likable, of the story at all. Supporting characters such as Frieze—kitchenhand-turned-personal-servant to Luca—and Isolde's constant companion, the beautiful, mysterious and deadly Ishraq, that are the story's most compelling.

Gregory truly deserves praise for her richly developed world which only becomes deeper, more engaging and immersive at the story progresses. From lush woods, to sleepy village idylls hiding a pervasive undercurrent of fear and nunneries with walls whispering ominous secrets, Gregory writes of medieval Europe, its superstitions and fears as if she were there. But it’s this beautiful world that suffers the most from the novel’s faults. While Gregory is certainly a fine storyteller, weaving a compelling tale, rich with an extraordinary wealth of detail and research, Changeling’s prose is at times pedestrian, turgid with description, diluting the impact of a world already beautifully imagined.

Changeling's anachronistic language grated at times, for it is neither fully modern speech, nor a true approximation of Middle English. But this is minor bugbear, and the various characters’ interactions are the book's most engaging moments. Inversely, a novel rife with entirely modern or old English would receive its fair share of criticism, but a simile involving reference to a hand gun on the book’s first page felt out of place, even though such things do in fact fit (narrowly) within the story’s timeline.

The Verdict:

While certainly not a perfect book, Changeling has much to offer. From intriguing mystery, to a gorgeous medieval Europe that charmed and thrilled, Gregory’s young adult debut is unlike any other in the category I’ve read. While not the most satisfying story in and of itself, this middle-ages Scooby Gang tale is a perfect series setup, and one which will leave those readers charmed by its pages hungry for more.

An enormous thank you to Simon & Schuster Australia for providing a review copy of Changeling

43 comments:

  1. A lot of people were hyping this book up so its rare to see a reviewer who hasn't given it 5 stars. Great review, very honest.

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    1. Thanks, Shane! It wasn't a bad book--but it wasn't fabulous, either. Thanks so much!

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  2. The Other Boleyn Girl is one of my favorite guilty pleasures, so I've been really curious about Phillipa Gregory's turn in YA. It's too bad the characters weren't fully developed, but I'm curious about the supporting cast you mentioned. I'll probably check this out at some point. Thanks for the review, Sarah!

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    1. I've been curious about that book for years... the fact that you kind of love it is major points in its favor for me :D

      Seriously, if you're already a Gregory fan, it'd be a shame to miss this. It's a quick read, and it does have fabulous things going for it :D

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  3. Most PGregory books are like this probably because she's a historian by heart. And as this is her first "YA" book, she might have stricken a lot of grown up parts although if memory serves me right, 17yo girls back then have had more than a taste of pleasure as they're either married, widowed or plump with several kids. I think YA was skipped in this era...

    Talk Supe

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    1. You know, I think that's a GREAT point. I had a lot of little irks with the book, but at the end there's a lovely few pages of author notes, written to the reader, talking about the historical elements, what she was aiming for, etc, and I loved this. I know it's bizarre, but it was one of my favorite parts of the book--it left me with a much more favorable overall impression :D

      Hehe--VERY true about 17 year old girls. You'd practically be an old maid ;D

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  4. Excellent, very well written review. :) This title caught my eye when it came out since I enjoyed Philippa Gregory's most popular novel, The Other Boleyn Girl. Unfortunately, it seems Philippa Gregory's books are not getting better over the years, but worse. Still, I'm glad you liked this inspite of your qualms. :) I think it'll be a pass for me though since I can't stand anachronistic language... :(

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    1. Aw, thanks Leanne! You know, it might just be me, and I KNOW this book has won a lot of fans. It just... seemed to be missing something, or a lot of small somethings for me. It is very different from other YA I've read, and it'll be interesting to see how others receive it. It certainly has a lot going for it :)

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  5. Augh, S, love your way with words! I've heard mixed things about this book, it seems like everyone thought it was alright but not totally in love with it. The world sounds absolutely beautiful but I'm sorry the rest of the book didn't live up to it.

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    1. Elena, seriously, you make me blush :"O
      It's an OK book, but it's not fabulous. I *DID* enjoy it, just not as much as hoped, and seriously, parts really were absolutely gorgeous. Thanks! you! *hugs*

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  6. Oh, disappointed this wasn't a 4 or 5 for you! I've seen many 3s from Aussie bloggers. I love the sound of this book but do worry about the length and how it impacts on the characterisation. So important! I'll probably read Changeling next week and I'm hoping I enjoy it :) Thanks for the review!

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    1. Yeah, most of those I've spoken to had similar thoughts to me... but I REALLY hope you feel differently! It has so much to offer, and I actually WOULD read a sequel :)

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  7. Yeah I wasn't much of a fan of this book. But it has potential though. Nice review!

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    1. Dissapointing, huh. But you're SO right. SOOO much potential!

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  8. I didn't quite liked Changeling and was a bit disappointed with it since my expectations were quite high! It was overall enjoyable and I like the historical setting, but the story didn't hooked me and I completely agree with everything you said! I'm still glad I read it because it's my first Gregory book (I'm really interested in checking out her adult books now!) and I still can't wait to read the sequel!

    AMAZING review, Sarah! <3

    PS: MISS YOU SO MUCH! XP <3

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    1. Honestly, I think I feel EXACTLY the same way as you. It was dissapointing coming from an author of her status, but it was VERY promising :)

      OH MY WORD, I MISS YOU TOO! I've been on holidays for a week, but it feels like a MONTH! I miss you guys :'(

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  9. Oh God, I hate head hopping. And I am all about character development, without it, I'm outie. Prob not the book for me, but it sounds interesting enough I bet some will enjoy it. :)

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    1. UGH. RIGHT? It's the mid-scene head-hopping I can't abide. I know romance is a big culprit, and I'm a big fan, but UGH. It pulls me out of the story EVERY. SINGLE. TIME.

      I *KNOW* this book will find an audience. You're totally right--it does have a lot to offer, and I'm sure it'll find fans amongst Gregory's existing readers, too :)

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  10. Awww shuckity shucks... sad to hear this wasn't particularly WOWing. I've heard such much about Philippa Gregory, and while I haven't read any of her books, I was very excited for her dipping into the YA genre. Despite it's flaws, I AM glad it's still an enjoyable read!

    Heh, you do have me intrigued with "middle-ages Scooby Gang" :D FANTABULOUS REVIEW, SARAH.

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    1. You know what's bizarre? So many things about this book made me grumble and irritated and unsatisfied, but I'd DEVOUR a second book if you set it down in front of me right now. It'll still have its fans, I'm sure :D

      *cackles* I swear. There's a even a slightly silly, animal-loving character for Shaggy :D

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  11. I think it's your awesome writing, but your reviews always manage to make a book sound wonderful even when it wasn't blow-you-away amazing! I love how it feels almost fairytale-ish with the whole left-in-the-castle thing, but even more that it's medieval. (I used to love studying medieval times!) And their names are super cool -- Luca and Isolde. Love them! x)

    Beautiful review as always, Sarah-bara! Miss youuuuuu :') <3

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    1. Aw, Mimi! *hugs* thank you! What you said about the fairytaleish feel? YES YES YES! And the names, too: win :D

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  12. I've been seeing reviews of CHANGELING everywhere lately! I'm glad that this book has great world building. I mean, worlds that become more real as you read on? I wish all books nowadays had that element in them...

    You definitely make CHANGELING sound appealing, though, even though it wasn't all perfect. I think I might check it out!

    Great review, Sarah. :D

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    1. Thanks, Meg! It has SO much going for it, and I'll DEFINITELY continue the series. There's PROMISE. I just didn't feel all of it was reached here :)

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  13. This is like my first review of Changeling to read, only because you wrote it. :P Changeling personally doesn't seem like my cup of tea because... well the cover kind of throws me off. It's like middle ages Mary Sue in her medieval dress hinting, "COME AT ME BRO" and this creepy looking guy stalking her in the back. o-o Just... no.

    OKAY, enough cover ranting. Now about your review, it's THAT short of a book? If I see a book that is LESS than 300 pages, I am immediately turned of because there's most likely not a lot of development in some aspect of the book whether it be the plot, characters, etc.

    Five point of views is probably too much for me to handle too... I can barely stand two! (There are exceptions though.) It SUCKS to see that this book wasn't your favorite, Sarah, but thanks for sharing your thoughts!! <3

    (Sorry, I wrote a huge comment. x-x)

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    1. OH THANK YOU! YES! THE COVER IS BIZARRE.
      ANYWAY.

      It is SERIOUSLY that short. I think it's actually 248 pages? I don't think ALL short books are gonna be left lacking--Lisa McMann for instance? She's AMAZING. BUT YES YES YES SO often it results in dissapointment, and ESPECIALLY when you add 5 POVS.

      AND NO SORRIES! THANK YOU for your long comment! *huggles*

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  14. Hmm... this sounds interesting enough but it's a shame the character development was lacking. I can understand why there was difficulty really connecting when there a five different viewpoints. I'm not a fan of alternating points of view in general, so I doubt that aspect would sit well with me. Great review though, Sarah! Very helpful as always! :)

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    1. Definitely has it good points, but yeah :)
      Thanks Sam! xx

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  15. If nothing else, I'm intrigued. I love how you describe the pacing. I enjoy gothic mysteries because they are usually slow paced but without feeling slow if you know what I mean >.< I know this isn't a gothic I just think I could like it bc of the well developped mysteries. Funny thing is, I actually got this one from S&S and immediately gave it away bc I'm really not a fan of historicals and I had heard nothing about it. No hype, no cover reveal, no excitement I was like WTF is this? haha. Anyways, it actually does sound good though I'm a but stunned at FIVE povs! O_O

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    1. YES! I know EXACTLY what you mean! Seriously, it's an easy, quick read if you want to pick it up. It's not bad, just lacking, but I'm really looking forward to the series' progression :)

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  16. Lovely review, hun! I know Philippa's name but haven't read anything by her and while this doesn't sound like something I'd usually read, I am intrigued with your description of her ability to create a realistic fantasy world!

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    1. Thanks Mands! Seriously, I was exactly the same going in--knew her name but not much else other than that her book was a movie :)
      It's a decent book, but it needed MORE :)

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  17. Great review Sarah! I've been debating about reading this one or not and I think I'm going to get it from the library! I LOVED reading The Other Boleyn Girl and The Constant Princess (both by Philippa Gregory!). I can't wait to check this out :)

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    1. Thanks Sarah! I haven't read any of her other books, but if you're already a fan, I'm sure you'll love it! Good luck! ♥

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  18. I am sorry you didn't love this one as much as you wanted to :( AMAZING and honest review!!

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  19. Great review, Sarah! I'm surprised to hear about it's length considering how much seems to happen fromt he description. I'm a little worried as to whether or not I'd enjoy it, but I'll give it a go. Thanks for the review!

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    1. Thanks, Jo! Seriously, you're not wrong... there is quite a bit going on, and quite a few characters, so it's interesting, but yeah...

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  20. Saraaaaaaaaaah!!
    Wonderful review! I totally agree with you! while is not a satisfying read, it is still a very charming debut. I love the world and its setting as well. This one kept me turning pages in a fast speed mode, yet once I reached the end, it didnt satisfied me. HOpefully the next book will be longer XDDD lol!

    Great review my dear! muah!! XOXOXOXXOOXO

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    1. Natalia! *HUGS* Thank you!
      EXACTLY! I wanted MORE, but... yeah. I'll still definitely read the next book! xx

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  21. Love our review! I am surprised when I saw it was so short, I saw it at the store and it seemed soo much longer lol, I don't know if it is the type of story that will interest me but, I have been thinking of checking it out, Thanks so much for your thoughts!

    your newest follower,
    Kristin
    youngadultbookhaven.blogspot.com

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    1. Thanks, Kristin!
      Hmmmm... I wonder if the US copy is longer tha the AUS version? Sometimes the spread the words out a bit more? It's still worth checking out, but maybe more of a borrow than a buy :)

      Delete
  22. It's interesting that in order to crack into the teen market she's made it about werewolves and magic. All of her other books are set in the same time period, more or less, but as far as I'm aware they don't include any magic.

    I've only read The Other Boleyn Girl, and I sort of agree with you. The world building and the hypothesising of what went on behind closed doors was really good, but god I wanted to behead them ALL after a few chapters! I remember feeling really stressed too. It's one of the few books where I wanted to hurridly rip out pages from the book in an attempt to quell the anxiety and fury I felt.

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