Author: Philippa Gregory
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Publication Date: May 24, 2012
Series: Order of Darkness #1
Links: Amazon | Goodreads
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.
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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