Changeling by Philippa Gregory
I must admit (quite shamefully) that upon finishing this I realized it’s been on my TBR bookshelf for six years.
I AM HORRIBLE.
Anyway, sometime in those six years I realized the well-known tidbit that Gregory is the author of not only The Other Boleyn Girl, but a whole plethora of adult historical fiction, mostly on bad-ass Tudor and Plantagenet women (for the non-history majors out there, those are two hugely important royal families in English history). From all you history fans in the back, can I get a “Hell yeah!”?
Don’t get tooooooo excited, though, if you’re hoping for another story about a real figure–Changeling is purely fictional. Still, it’s set in the medieval (not fantasy) world of 1453 Italy with real medieval inspirations for characters like Ishraq and the Order of Darkness. In terms of this setting, I was thoroughly impressed with how authentic it felt: the monasteries and nunneries are accurate right down to their very physical set-up (explained with an included diagram in the novel), their clothing and hairstyles are on point, the customs and mannerisms are spectacularly medieval. I don’t care if you know nothing about the Middle Ages–it’s impossible not to feel like you’re there, like she’s right, like it’s real.
Now, for all the praise I give the setting I can’t do the same for the characters. And unlike usual, I don’t mean this specifically for one or two but I mean all the characters in general. Everyone seems so…young. Childish, and naïve. Further, their conversations are superficial; they talk about stealing wine, about Freize shutting up because he’s a servant, about not being allowed to like each other but never anything of depth. You never really get to know any of the characters because they don’t discuss anything of consequence. I think the reason is likely the omniscient narration (omniscient = all-knowing. My high school English teachers would be proud!); instead of being told from people’s POV, it’s written third-person and jumps from character to character all within the span of a single chapter (kinda like reading a Jane Austen novel for those of you who’ve read her books). You only get short snippets of each character’s thoughts making it hard to get a feel for who they are.
Of what I did gather, here’s what I thought: For the girls, Ishraq’s a little intense but a lot of fun and Isolde is dull but intriguing. Honestly, this pair was my favourite because both spend the novel challenging the medieval status quo–fifteenth-century feminists are totally people can get behind! For the boys, Freize bounces between annoying and perfectly goofy and Luca bugged the shit out of me. But whatever.
FYI romance doesn’t really start until the second half after the whole monastery debacle and Ishraq and Freize are waaay more entertaining than Isolde and Luca. Just saying. Actually, just be prepared to like the supporting characters more than the MCs the whole time.
The concept of the novel is cool, though. Luca is an inquirer for the Pope sent to bolster the Church by uncovering heresy and supposedly supernatural mysteries–so basically a holy medieval detective. The way he comes in with all the answers at the end just when everyone think they’ve got it figured out, it’s like a Sherlock Holmes novel! You know, if Sherlock Holmes were a hot and Italian and a former monk in the mid-1400s. Totally the same.
Overall, my feelings are pretty lukewarm. The setting is amazing and the concept is interesting but it’s really difficult to enjoy a novel when you don’t enjoy the characters. The set-up of the ending seems promising, though, so I’ll definitely be giving it another shot.
Click here for the book synopsis on goodreads!
PSA: the blurb on goodreads is more indicative of the series as a whole than this first book. That said, I can type up the better synopsis from my hardcover if anyone would like. Let me know in the comments! Happy reading 🙂