Publisher: Simon and Schuster
Release Date: 24th May 2012
Edition: UK hardcover, review copy
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-yer-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 on good and evil.
Seventeen-year-old Isolde, a Lady Abbess, is trapped in a nunnery to prevent her claiming her rich inheritance. As the nuns in her care are driven mad by 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. Outside in the yard they are building a pyre to burn her for witchcraft.
Forced to face the greatest fears of the medieval world – dark magic, werewolves, madness – Luca and Isolde embark on a searth for truth, their own destinies, and even love as they take the unknown ways to the real historical figure who defends the boundaries of Christendom and holds the secrets of the Order of Darkness.
I didn’t quite know what to expect from Changeling having never read Philippa Gregory before and my strange relationship with historical fiction, but I was pleasantly surprised.
The setting of Medieval Italy is nicely evoked without being drowned in stodgy historical details or a torrent of back-story as Changeling revolved around fictional characters instead of the usual real people of the past. There was enough for me to vividly picture the beautiful countryside and quaint little villages and conjure up the faces of Luca, Isolde, Ishraq, Brother Peter and Frieze with no effort at all.
I have to admit that I didn’t really connect with any of the characters as I had expected to. I mean, I supported Isolde and Ishraq when they were accused of murder and witchcraft and I wanted them to be believed, but there was no doubt in my mind that they would be punished for it which took away a little of my enjoyment of the story. The initial description of Luca held serious promise and I wanted to fall head over heels for him, but I’m not really sure there was enough meat to him. Even though I haven’t read any of Gregory’s adult novels, I have a feeling that she may have simplified her characterisation and plot for a young adult audience – a mistake in my eyes. Frieze was the only character that captured my heart and I hope to see a lot more of him in the next series.
With the title being Changeling and Isolde and Ishraq being accused of witchcraft, I was expecting a fairly substantial degree of the supernatural to be thrown into the mix, especially in such a superstitious and religious time. I have to admit that I wasn’t at all disappointed in the lack of the supernatural; I was pleased! The presence of the supernatural was actually what had been putting me off reading Changeling so just a pure historical fiction read was lovely.
There is one element of the 1453 setting that impaired my enjoyment of Changeling: the attitudes of the male characters towards women. I know that at the time women were controlled by men entirely and had no control or entitlements to rule their own lives, but even in the face of strong and independent women who have possibilities, they were thwarted. It really annoyed me even as I told myself that that was the way it was and it stopped me from becoming properly engaged with Luca.
Though Changeling didn’t blow me away in the way I expected it to, I flew through it and I’ll definitely be reading the rest of the series.
Thank you to S&S for providing me with a review copy.