Overall, I liked Philippa Gregory’s YA novel, The Changeling, even though I could quibble about the title. It was a fast, light summertime read, with many of the hallmarks of a good Gregory novel: fluid writing, attention to historical details, likable characters, and a believable plot premise.
The Changeling is Luca Vero, an uber-rational, handsome 17-year-old living in the superstitious 15th Century training to be a priest and recruited by the Pope to investigate evil that might portend the End of Times. If my Italian is correct, Luca means “light” and Vero means “truth”—so his name gives us a clue about what he brings to the situations he encounters.
Luca’s interesting ability to parse the rational from the irrational has always brought him notoriety. Before he was separated from his parents and joined a monastery, Luca’s village believed him to be a changeling, one of the faerie folk. This is a really interesting plotline that I don’t feel gets well-developed enough, given it is the book’s title. I believe, based on an interview with Gregory by The Telegraph, that the changeling concept is more about way Luca evolves as a person—at least that is what I took away from it and in that context, I see the sense.
Under orders from the Pope, Luca sets off from Rome accompanied by a Frieze, a servant/protector, and the ultra-serious Brother Peter who represents the establishment. The book’s blurb on Amazon.com mentions Luca being recruited to the Order of the Dragon but I did not find mention of this Order in the book (and I double-checked on my Kindle by doing search). Minor oops or typo on someone’s part. I think they meant the Order of Darkness? I didn’t see the Order of Darkness mentioned in the book either.
Their first assignment is to discover whether the nuns at the Convent in Lucretili are possessed. The Convent has a new Abbess, the beautiful Isolde, who has been shut up there against her will by her evil brother. Isolde’s companion Ishraq, is an Arab woman with remarkable abilities for someone of her gender in the 15th Century and probably the character I had the most trouble with as she felt a little like a superhero. The mystery is not particularly deep or difficult for Luca to solve.
Luca’s second assignment was to assess whether a captured animal was a werewolf or not. I won’t spoil it, but will say it was the part of the book I liked the best.
There is a lot to like about this book. It is a good, light read and clearly the first in a series, I liked the characters and the premise, and look for deeper characters and hopefully more sinister plot twists in next volume of the series. There a romance brewing between Isolde and Luca, perhaps one between Frieze and Ishraq, and I am still waiting for justice to come to Isolde’s brother…next book?
I’m not entirely hooked yet, but as a huge Gregory fan, I’m willing to be convinced and read more. In fairness, I have not read a lot of YA fiction, though a perusal through my hometown Barnes & Noble showed me what a huge market exists for teen fiction (especially the paranormal or fantasy variety).
Here are some other reviews of the book and interview with Philippa Gregory on The Changeling that you may find interesting. Would love to hear you views.