By Julie Berry
A young woman in 12th century provincial France preaches to her people, and performs miracles that could only come from the divine. The Catholic Church, fresh from the crusades, seeks to “purify” the soul of christendom, and secure their hold on Europe. This young woman, Dolssa, refuses to be silent, and is branded a heretic. The Church hunts her across the land until Botille, a matchmaker in a small seaside town finds Dolssa on death door, nurses her back to health and hides her. However, with the Church bearing down on them, they only have so long, and the more time Dolssa spends in this town the more the Church will likely damn it.
Julie Berry weaves a tale of feminism, religion, and the thin line between being a saint or a heretic in medieval Europe. The prose of the novel is gorgeous, littered with Provincial French, and the characters are captivating. Botille and her sisters are outspoken and feminist in a time when women had few if any rights. Dolssa is an innocent whose words come from truth. She is also courageous and in the face of overwhelming power refuses to be cowed. The whole novel is told from many perspectives including those who pursue Dolssa. We are given a whole narrative and see both side of a complex history. The end in many ways feels inevitable, but the book is an epic ride the whole way through.
This book is a provincial meal. Full bodied and complex the book brings many different events, symbols, and themes together in harmony. It creates an image of a world long gone, but just as visceral as glancing out a window. The deep faith of Dolssa, and Botille’s belief in her grasps the reader, and after every twist you only become more attached. This book is one of the best pieces of historical fiction I have read in a long time and fully deserves 5 stars.-Claire