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The Illuminator, Brenda Vantrease

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Posts: 54
Joined: August 2008
Location: Marlow, Oklahoma

The Illuminator, Brenda Vantrease

Post by LoisAnn » Tue September 2nd, 2008, 5:12 pm

>>Taken from my Book of the Month post from the previous site. So this is more of a "discussion" post, rather than straight review.<<

I very much enjoyed The Illuminatorand will definitely read the sequel. Ms. Vantrease developed her book using diverse characters - some real, some fictional (but always believable) and a complex multi-layered plot.

So far, so good. I enjoyed learning about the art of book illustrating - originally referred to as illuminating. Making the ink, treating each page as an individual art project, etc. was fascinating and made me understand full well how valuable books were during that time. Something we take for granted today was a rare and precious belonging in the 1300's.

Having Henry Despenser as a main character was also a useful and unique aspect. Other books often have references to the excesses of the Church and to the less than devout behavior of Church leaders, but rarely do we have a powerful Bishop in all his larger-than-life glory as a main character. I think Ms. Vantrease accurately captured the beliefs, motivations and wealth of Henry Despenser and that this was probably more the norm than the exception. However, in sharp relief, is the Anchoress Julian - a real-life person - who was devout, honest in her faith and a source of comfort to all who came to her. I loved all scenes that included Julian.

Juxtaposed against Bishop Henry Despenser are the struggles of John Wycliffe with his firm belief that people should be able to read the Scriptures in their own language and his resistance against the power of the priests and other Church leaders. Without beating us over the head with the storyline, Ms. Vantrease skillfully shows the reader the difficulties and secrecy behind John Wycliffe's work.

Along these same lines, the abject poverty of the poor was shown in sharp comparison to the obscene wealth of those in power - either politically or religiously (knowing that sometimes this power was both). Being relentlessly taxed by both the Church and the King created the perfect environment for a rebellion - however fruitless - like Wat Tyler's. Ms. Vantrease did an excellent job of "illuminating" the vast differences between the "haves" and the "have nots."

Also interesting to me were the details of running a manor like Blackingham. I am always interested in the background details that actually put food on Sir Knight's table and coin in his coffers and I thought Ms. Vantrease did a great job in detailing Lady Kathryn's daily life and the lives of those who worked on the manor.

Ms. Vantrease was also quite clear in showing that, although a landowner in her own right, Kathryn did not have the freedoms and independence that her position and wealth would otherwise imply. She struggled with financial concerns and was subject to direction from the King on whom she should marry. Compounded during these times, was the constant threat of being accused of treason against the King or heresy against the Church. In many ways, her lot was no better than her serfs; she just had better clothes and better food on the table.

>> Spoiler Alert << My disappointment with the book came with the ending. I frankly admit that I like some sort of a happy ending. And, when a book has fictional characters, at least a modicum of happiness should be possible. Lady Kathryn has found the love of her life – after a 1st marriage of unhappiness – and Finn has found 2nd true love in Kathryn. But wait, Kathryn is presumed dead and Finn is leaving England. Kathryn has twin sons that she adores – and they both end up dead. Her ancestral home, Blackingham Manor, is burned to the ground and the lands are bequeathed to a local priory.

I understand the need for Finn to leave England if he wanted to continue to support John Wycliffe and can even justify the self-sacrificing deception of Kathryn’s death. But, was it too much to ask that one of the sons live and inherit Blackingham? And, I wanted the cruel, hateful sheriff to die in battle during Wat Tyler’s Rebellion. As things went from bad to worse in the story, I kept waiting for something positive to happen … and when it didn’t, I felt just a little cheated. I expected more from Ms. Vantrease than for her to cast all storylines to the winds and say “book over.”

Perhaps she was already plotting how she wanted to develop the sequel – which I have heard is quite good – and, which I look forward to reading. I just hope for a little sigh of happiness and satisfaction at the end. Maybe I should go back to Sleeping Beauty & Cinderella … ???
I've never known any trouble that an hour's reading didn't assuage. ~ Charles de Secondat

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Joined: August 2008
Currently reading: The Farm at the Edge of the World by Sarah Vaughan
Interest in HF: The first historical novel I read was Katherine by Anya Seton and this sparked off my interest in this genre.
Favourite HF book: Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell!
Preferred HF: Any
Location: North Yorkshire, UK

Post by Vanessa » Tue September 2nd, 2008, 5:16 pm

Here are my thoughts copied from the old board:

I really enjoyed this book. It took me quite a while to read it as I found it a slow read. It isn't particularly uplifting but the amount of research that must have gone into it is amazing. It's a sad story, really, with little moments of happiness.

I thought it was well written and I found it very interesting, quite intriguing. I liked the main characters of Kathryn and Finn, I thought they were well drawn. The story kept my interest and I was quite sorry when it ended. I enjoyed all the notes at the back of the book, too. I feel I've learnt something!

I've already bought the sequel, The Mercy Seller, which I look forward to reading.
currently reading: My Books on Goodreads

Books are mirrors, you only see in them what you already have inside you ~ The Shadow of the Wind

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