With the first book in her Order of Darkness series, Philippa Gregory sets a tale of romance, intrigue, and Inquisition in the startling and delightful ambiance of pre-Enlightenment Europe.
I am unabashedly in love with stories of Medieval and Renaissance Europe, so it is no real surprise that I love Philippa Gregory. While waiting for her new book, The Kingmaker’s Daughter, to arrive on the holds shelf for me, I have been trying out her new series for teens, The Order of Darkness.
Gregory is well known for her books on Renaissance England (The Other Boleyn Girl, The Virgin’s Lover). Changeling, the first in the series to be known as The Order of Darkness, is set just prior to this time period, at the end of the 15th century in Italy.
Luca Vero is a young initiate to the priesthood who has been banished from his monastery for the heretical act of questioning the veracity of the monastery’s shards of the True Cross. Luca is summoned before a Papal Inquisitor—a man simply known as the lord—and told: “You must not lie to me. Your life hangs in the balance here, and you cannot guess what answers I would prefer. Be sure to tell the truth: you would be a fool to die for a lie.”
Once he is questioned (with the fear of the Inquisistion firmly instilled in him), Luca reveals his insightful and inquisitive intelligence and his affinity for numbers and their patterns. The Inquisitor decides immediately to send Luca out into the world of Christendom looking for mysteries, heresies and sins, to explain them where possible, and defeat them where he can. The end of days are coming, the Inquisitor says, and we must arm against them.
Thus begins Luca’s journey with his servant, Frieze, and his clerk (and possible spy), Brother Peter.
Changeling tells the story of Luca’s first task as an Inquirer for the Order and leads him to discover the Lady Isolde and her companion, Ishraq. As with many first books of a series, the story is very busy telling how these disparate individuals will come together, because it seems by the end of the book that these five people form the basis of the Order of Darkness series.
Gregory has a lot of groundwork that she wants to lay so that we know about Luca and Isolde, and even Frieze and Ishraq, so the book spends a great deal of time establishing them and laying out credible reasons for them to align themselves to one another.
This results in a rather clunky movement in the middle of the book where one story has ended and the reader isn’t quite sure why the book isn’t over yet. But, the action picks up, a werewolf is introduced, and we are off to the races yet again to a rather satisfying, if sentimental, ending.
Gregory’s intended audience is teens and much of the sexual intrigue that graces so many of her other stories are missing here. Luca and Isolde are 17 – old enough to be in the world – but they are somewhat more innocent than characters found in The Tudor Court Novels.
There is an undeniable romantic attraction between Luca and Isolde, which undoubtedly will be teased out, along with what may be an even more remarkable alliance between Ishraq and Frieze. While the overt bedroom scenes may be absent, there is still plenty of sexual politics, supernatural mysteries, and intellectual thought here to intrigue the teen set and amuse the adult one.
Changeling is book one of the Order of Darkness series. It is flavored with Gregory’s ability to create the startling and delightful ambiance of pre-Enlightenment Europe, and it has at its center five characters who each has a story to tell.
The first book may not be the most satisfyingly crafted of Gregory’s novels, and it may actually be two shorter adventures packaged together, but it speaks of the promise of a remarkable adventure series, for teens and adults alike.
It is a fast read, easy to absorb in a few leisurely afternoons, and was a wonderful amuse bouche while I waited for my copy of The Kingmaker’s Daughter.
About the Author
Melissa Carle is a Support Specialist with the KC-LSP and thinks life is too short to read a book that doesn't excite you in the first 40 pages. She likes cooking, herb gardening, and, of course, reading and thinks all good books, fiction and non-fiction alike, share one thing in common: they're just a good yarn.