Author: Philippa Gregory (author website)
Release Date: May 4th 2012 by Simon & Schuster Australia
Age Group: Young Adult
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...
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 StorySeventeen 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 ThoughtsChangeling 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.