Everyone is writing YA books these days – and the latest authors to jump on board are Jodi Picoult and Philippa Gregory. I admit, I’ve rather been dreading what both these successful (though repetitive, to my taste) authors have to offer.
I was pleasantly surprised by the first half of Changeling. Though not exactly a literary triumph, it had some engaging characters and an interesting enough story line. Gregory certainly knows her history. The novel follows Luca Vero, a brilliant young man with a scientific mind who has been expelled from his religious order for heresy (he calculates that all the nails that various religious orders have claimed to have preserved from THE cross cannot possibly be true – they would outweigh the cross itself). He is recruited by the The Order of the Dragon, a secret organisation commissioned by Pope Nicholas V to track down the inexplicable occurrences appearing throughout the land during this end-of-days time. Assisted by a scribe/spy and a mouthy kitchen boy, he sets out to investigate strange events as they present themselves (or are presented to him).
The other main character is Isolde, a seventeen-year-old noble girl who should have inherited her father’s estates. However, her brother has managed to conspire to rob her of this legacy – leaving her to chose between an unspeakable marriage or taking her vows and becoming the head of a nunnery. With no real alternative, she reluctantly enters the convent.
Luca and Isolde’s paths join when he is sent to investigate charges of witchcraft at Isolde’s nunnery. Without getting into spoiler details, there is a conspiracy in the convent, and confusion about whether god’s work or evil is being done. At the 11th hour Luca solves the case, though he seemed to have no idea about what to do up to the very moment. I admit, my credulity was stretched to its breaking point in this climactic scene (imagine deranged, bald nuns attacking like creatures from night of the living dead). Even more puzzling was the fact that this climax came only halfway through the novel. I was wondering what could possibly be next – another climax? a denouement lasting 100+ pages? In fact, the end was a second, almost entirely discrete, episode taking place in another village. The second half of the novel was fine – but very strange. It felt much more like Gregory had put two books into one, with an odd little bridge to join them. Of course, there promises to be more adventures for the little group, but I am not sure who will be venturing out to join them.