Review: Changeling by Philippa Gregory

Title: Changeling
Author: Philippa Gregory
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Publication Date: May 24, 2012
Series: Order of Darkness #1
Links: Amazon | Goodreads
Source: Publicist
The year is 1453, and all signs point to it being the end of the world.

Accused of heresy and expelled from his monastery, handsome seventeen-year-old Luca Vero is recruited by a mysterious stranger to record the end of times across Europe. Commanded by sealed orders, Luca is sent to map the fears of Christendom and travel to the very frontier of good and evil.

Seventeen-year-old Isolde, a Lady Abbess, is trapped in a nunnery to prevent her from claiming her rich inheritance. As the nuns in her care are driven mad by having strange visions, walking in their sleep, and showing bleeding wounds, Luca is sent to investigate, and all the evidence points to Isolde's criminal guilt.

Forced to face the greatest fears of the medieval world - dark magic, werewolves, madness - Luca and Isolde embark on a search for truth, their own destines, and even love as they take the unknown ways to the real historical figure who defends boundaries of Christendom and holds the secrets of the Order of Darkness.
The title and synopsis of Changeling suggests that it is some sort of a historical fantasy and that saving the world is required and whatnot. At least, that is what it sounded like to me. But honestly, there really isn't any end of the world going on here, and there isn't much fantasy either unless you count that one character is believed to be a changeling and that there are one or two curious/unexplained situations that may or may not have anything to do with magic. Whether the fantasy elements will be upped in future installments, I do not know. But, for now, this is a Middle Ages historical novel that involves a couple of mysteries, a lot of superstition of the witch hunt variety, and some battles between and fusion of religion and logic.

Luca is a teen accused of heresy and then sent forth to use his brilliant mind to make inquiries into strange occurrences and to find out the truth. Isolde is the daughter of a Crusader and Lord, betrayed by her brother and placed in a nunnery against her will. While both of these characters are decent enough, I had difficulty becoming attached to them. I liked their companions, Ishraq and Freize, better because they had more interesting personalities. Freize has a way with animals and makes clever remarks though he is thought to be a fool by some. (He reminded me of Shakespeare's fools in this way, which I liked.) Ishraq is a girl who has been Isolde's companion since childhood, when Isolde's father brought Ishraq and her mother back from the Crusades. She is learned in the ways of fighting and science, in order to be of service to Isolde and to protect her. The companions are more nuanced and interesting, while the main two characters fall on the flat side.

The plot involves a couple of mysteries that Luca must solve, the first involving Isolde's nunnery. The part of the story that takes place in the convent is predictable. I had a difficult time becoming invested in it because it wasn't much of a mystery at all. Once the story moves away from the convent, it becomes a lot more interesting, though the second mystery is also a little predictable even though it is not quite so obvious as that of the nunnery. The pacing is fairly slow, particularly in the first half of the story, and there isn't enough suspense or a creepy enough mood to make up for it. It does pick up slightly in the second half. I think that I could have enjoyed the mysteries more if the superstitions had felt more threatening, like in a Gothic story. The second mystery is more successful in this, which is probably why I liked it better.

If you are looking into reading Changeling because you want a historical fantasy, maybe this isn't quite what you're looking for. However, if you like straight up historical fiction, mystery, superstition and witch hunts, then you may quite enjoy this. I do think it could have been better if the suspense and creepiness had been upped a bit and/or if the pacing had been quicker. And it would have been nice if the characters had felt more three-dimensional. But my overall opinion of it is: It's alright. Will I read the second book, Stormbringers? Perhaps. The synopsis has me intrigued, as it mentions war, an intense and deadly storm, and an epic quest.

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  1. Thanks for the giveaway! I love Phillippa Gregory! I've read almost all of her books!

    1. This was my first book of hers, though I've been wanting to read some of her other stuff for quite a while. :)

  2. Great review! This sounds like something I'd like. And I'm not looking for historical fantasy, so that's good. Thanks for the giveaway! (:

    1. Oh, good! It just wasn't what I was initially expecting. I'm not sure why, since I know she writes this kind of thing. The mention of the end of the world, dark magic, werewolves, changelings, etc. is what did it, I think. But it's definitely more mystery drama than fantasy.

  3. I like the cover...maybe I'll like the book too.

  4. I didn't hate or like this book. I think the original cover turned me off - it was horrid! I like this cover much more. I believe I gave Changeling three stars as well. I will definitely continue the series, but I've read better YA historical fiction novels. Great review! Thank you so much for the giveaway! :)

    1. Haha, I like the new cover much better as well. This is one of the few mid-series cover changes that I am not going to complain about.

  5. I think you are my book twin. I had the exact same feelings toward this one. It was okay, but it wasn't at all what I was expecting, especially with that original cover. The characters left me wanting, as well. I'm not sure if I even want to continue the series. :(

    1. Book twin!

      I am still undecided about continuing. There were some flaws and of course it isn't particularly what I was expecting either, but I did like Freize and Ishraq. This type of historical isn't my usual thing so it's probably outside of my comfort zone - I'm sure it's no surprise that I prefer my Medieval (or Middle Ages, in this case I suppose) reads to be more fantasy oriented. And I wonder if Gregory's style is perhaps more conducive to writing adult fiction rather than teen fiction which tends to be more fast-paced and emotional.

      I will wait maybe and see what others have to say about it: whether the hinted-at fantasy elements ever become realized, what the action and pacing are like, if Luca and Isolde become more developed, etc.

  6. I liked the book but yet I felt a bit the same you as you. I liked Frieze and Ishraq a lot and they were very funny but I didn't really connect with the characters. I didn't figure out the mysteries but they weren't terribly suspenseful either. And I don't know that I like that they make it sound historical fantasy cause at least so far it isn't. Its just HF. But I like HF so it didn't actually become a negative. It was just different then I expected.

    1. Yeah, exactly. I didn't dislike it, but it wasn't what I was expecting either. And I still don't know what to expect from the next book, since there are things that could go the fantasy route, or the superstition route (like the changeling thing). I'd like to know what direction to expect it to take, regarding that stuff.

  7. Thanks for the wonderful giveaway. I love all her books.

    lizzi0915 at aol dot com

  8. I can't wait to read this! Thanks for the giveaway!


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