This book picked up a bit slower for me. Philippa Gregory spent perhaps a third of the book with Johann and there was plenty of religious talk in that space that didn’t particularly appeal to me. But once Johann’s prophesy comes true, things really pick up. The twist midway through the book brings three of our heroes into danger and leaves one lost, potentially forever. Towards the end we get yet another twist that could lead Luca to find his long lost parents and tests Ishraq’s loyalty to her mistress Isolde. Once again, Freize was my favorite character and had some of the best lines, being of a more practical nature.
I have to say that growing odd love quadrangle leaves poor Brother Peter out in the cold and the reader rolling their eyes. At first, some of the aspects were cute, even sweet or compassionate, but then jealousies strain the plot and leave at least one of the characters looking like a spoiled 12 year old instead of young adults who have been facing the world on their own two feet for a few months, if not a few years. Mostly, I tried to ignore that. Again, Ishraq is a fascinating character, but so many proficiencies are attributed to her it makes her character a bit unbelievable: she’s a scientist, a doctor, trained in hand to hand combat, multi-lingual, etc. She’s a 17 year old servant. Can’t she be extraordinary at that and still be believable?
Even with those distractions, I found the children’s crusade fascinating. The reader is also left to conclude on their own about Johann and his supposed divinity. When Johann’s prophesy comes trues, the reader can easily conclude it was a natural phenomenon. I don’t want to give away what this was exactly, but I personally have been fascinated with this particular phenomenon for a few years now. It is done really, really well in this story. Of course, this natural phenomenon then leads to accusations of witchcraft and Luca, the papal inquisitor, has to hold an official inquiry. I have to say that I felt the inquiry was wrapped up too easily and lacked drama. But then Philippa Gregory makes up for that with the last quarter of the book as the townfolk and Luca have to confront a slave galley. I won’t say more, but the last bit of the book was filled with delicious tension and mystery.
Narration: Nicola Barber was an excellent choice for this book. She performed Isolde exactly how I imagined her in my head. She gave Freize a playful, mocking voice, and Luca an inquisitive and sometimes haughty voice. Her range for age and gender brought this book to life. Additionally, there was an afterword from the author on what was factual and what was fiction about her book – such afterwards I always find of interest.