'The best books, reviewed with insight and charm, but without compromise.'
- author Jackie French

Sunday 16 February 2014

Review: Changeling (Order of Darkness #1)

The Year is 1453 and all signs point to it being the end of the world…

Well known author Philippa Gregory brings her impeccably researched, character driven historical drama to the young adult genre, introducing teen readers to Italy in the 15th century. In a time of religious instability and superstition, 17-year-old Luca Vero is expelled from his monastery for asking too many questions – a quality that makes him perfect to take on a role with the Order of Darkness, a group commissioned by the Pope to investigate reports of events and fears that point to the End Times.

17-year-old Isolde is the Lady Abbess of a nunnery, forced into the role after her father’s death by a ruthless brother keen to take over her share of their inheritance.  Isolde’s arrival at the nunnery coincides with a series of mysterious events and it seems likely Isolde will be accused of witchcraft as the nuns seek to explain the strange happenings.

Accompanied by his clerk, Brother Peter, and his servant Freize, Luca arrives at the nunnery to investigate. He is much taken with Isolde’s beauty and the enigmatic charm of her companion Ishraq, but he is determined to do his duty to the Church as he investigates the supernatural events that plague the community.

Changeling is an interesting introduction to the Order of Darkness series, set in mediaeval Europe and awash in all the superstitions of the times – concerns about dark magic, witchcraft, religious intolerance and fears of the unknown. Luca and Isolde are charismatic characters, Brother Peter is the ever dutiful voice of responsibility, Freize adds a refreshing element of humour and practical thinking and Ishraq, Isolde’s Moorish companion, is an intriguing character, offering readers an opportunity to easily compare the Christian and Moorish heritage and outlook.

Unlike Gregory’s adult fiction, Changeling is not the account of a specific historical figure. Instead, she offers a well constructed historical setting with the five fictional characters drawing readers into the story. Using this format, Gregory is able to merge various historical accounts and legends, offering a general account of the lifestyles, relationships, occupations and preoccupations of the time.

I found it fascinating to read about the superstitions of the times and the confusion and fear caused by simple events that we can now easily explain. While the religious ‘end times’ issues are central to Luca’s investigations, there are also some very interesting points raised about the role and expectations of women and the contrast between the Moorish and Christian world views that I hope will be developed further in future books in the series.

Changeling sets the scene and introduces the five main characters who will feature in future books in the series. I’m looking forward to reading more about the history of the characters, as well as learning more about the mysterious Order of Darkness, as the series progresses.

Title: Changeling (Order of Darkness #1)
Author: Philippa Gregory 
Publisher: Simon & Schuster, $16.99 RRP
Publication Date: January 2013
Format: Paperback
ISBN: 9780587077318
For ages: 14+
Type: Young Adult