Published: 24 May 2012 by Simon & Schuster
Format: Paperback, 272 pages
Genres: Fantasy, Historical
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Italy, 1453. Seventeen-year-old Luca Vero is brilliant, gorgeous—and accused of heresy. Cast out of his religious order for using the new science to question old superstitious beliefs, Luca is recruited into a secret sect: The Order of the Dragon, commissioned by Pope Nicholas V to investigate evil and danger in its many forms, and strange occurrences across Europe, in this year—the end of days.
Isolde is a seventeen-year-old girl shut up in a nunnery so she can’t inherit any of her father’s estate. As the nuns walk in their sleep and see strange visions, Isolde is accused of witchcraft—and Luca is sent to investigate her, but finds himself plotting her escape.
Despite their vows, despite themselves, love grows between Luca and Isolde as they travel across Europe with their faithful companions, Freize and Ishraq. The four young people encounter werewolves, alchemists, witches, and death-dancers as they head toward a real-life historical figure who holds the boundaries of Christendom and the secrets of the Order of the Dragon.
Having loved Philippa Gregory’s adult works, especially her Tudor Court novels, I have been anticipating her first YA novel for a long time. I was lucky enough to receive a review copy from the publisher, and I dove into it at first opportunity. Changeling exhibits all the traits I have come to love about Gregory’s writing – it vividly evokes the time it is set in, incorporates luscious descriptions of the gowns, castles and countryside and follows quirky and interesting characters with dark backgrounds.
As much as I love historical fantasy the treatment of women always manages to grate on me, and this book is no exception. However, I usually find the line between good and great historical fantasy lies in the way these women deal with their circumstances. Isolde, bound by her father’s will to live in a nunnery while her brother inherits, is not only strong and wildly independent, she is quiet about it, as one expects a women in her time to be. With an inquisitor around, I feel that laying low is her only option, and was glad to see her exercise common sense.
On the other hand, Luca strikes me as very typical for men with his position and upbringing. Although he never gives weight to the notions of abbey priests that the nunnery should be under their command, neither does he know how to handle a large group of women on the brink of madness. While his confusion is endearing, it just goes to show how men at that time expected to live out their days without ever having to even attempt to understand women, and his frustration that the nuns do not conform to his ideas is both worrying and hilarious at once.
I found the Young Adult aspect of the book to be overshadowed by its themes as a historical novel. Although it does follow teenaged characters who are both trying, desperately, to find their calling, and features a sweet romance, it lacks the rapid character development that appears in most YA novels. I don’t imply that this is a negative, however, this is definitely a positive aspect to the novel. For once, the girl is not immediately overwhelmed by the gorgeous boy, and neither is the boy struck dumb at her beauty. Yes, they find one another attractive, and towards the end of the novel they are playing with fire and trying to hide their regard for each other, but over all this aspect is played down in favour of chronicling the dark and mysterious things taking place around them.
Overall I really enjoyed Changeling immensely, after waiting for it for so long, and would recommend it to readers who enjoy both historical fiction or YA fantasy. I think the Order of Darkness series will have something for everyone, and I personally, am looking forward to reading the rest of the series!