The year is 1453 and all signs point to it being the end of the world. Accused of heresy and expelled from his monastery, handsome seventeen-year-old Luca Vero is recruited by a mysterious stranger to record the end of times across Europe. Commanded by sealed orders, Luca is sent to map the fears of Christendom and travel to the very frontier of good and evil.
Seventeen-year-old Isolde, a Lady Abbess, is trapped in a nunnery to prevent her from claiming her rich inheritance. As the nuns in her care are driven mad by strange visions, walking in their sleep, and showing bleeding wounds, Luca is sent to investigate and driven to accuse her.
Forced to face the greatest fears of the dark ages—witchcraft, werewolves, madness—Luca and Isolde embark on a search for truth, their own destinies, and even love as they take the unknown ways to the real historical figure who defends the boundaries of Christendom and holds the secrets of the Order of Darkness.
About the Author
Philippa Gregory is the author of many New York Times bestselling novels, including The Other Boleyn Girl, and is a recognized authority on women’s history. Many of her works have been adapted for the screen including The Other Boleyn Girl. Her most recent novel, The Last Tudor, is now in production for a television series. She graduated from the University of Sussex and received a PhD from the University of Edinburgh, where she is a Regent. She holds honorary degrees from Teesside University and the University of Sussex. She is a fellow of the Universities of Sussex and Cardiff and was awarded the 2016 Harrogate Festival Award for Contribution to Historical Fiction. She is an honorary research fellow at Birkbeck, University of London. She founded Gardens for the Gambia, a charity to dig wells in poor rural schools in The Gambia, and has provided nearly 200 wells. She welcomes visitors to her website PhilippaGregory.com.
Date of Birth:January 9, 1954
Place of Birth:Nairobi, Kenya, East Africa
Education:B.A. in history, Sussex University, 1982; Ph.D., 18th-century popular fiction, Edinburgh, 1984
Read an Excerpt
CASTLE SANT’ ANGELO,
ROME, JUNE 1453
The hammering on the door shot him into wakefulness like a handgun going off in his face. The young man scrambled for the dagger under his pillow, stumbling to his bare feet on the icy floor of the stone cell. He had been dreaming of his parents, of his old home, and he gritted his teeth against the usual wrench of longing for everything he had lost: the farmhouse, his mother, the old life.
The thunderous banging sounded again, and he held the dagger behind his back as he unbolted the door and cautiously opened it a crack. A dark-hooded figure stood outside, flanked by two heavyset men, each carrying a burning torch. One of them raised his torch so the light fell on the slight dark-haired youth, naked to the waist, wearing only breeches, his hazel eyes blinking under a fringe of dark hair. He was about seventeen, with a face as sweet as a boy, but with the body of a young man forged by hard work.
“You are to come with me.”
They saw him hesitate. “Don’t be a fool. There are three of us and only one of you, and the dagger you’re hiding behind your back won’t stop us.”
“It’s an order,” the other man said roughly. “Not a request. And you are sworn to obedience.”
Luca had sworn obedience to his monastery, not to these strangers, but he had been expelled from there, and now it seemed he must obey anyone who shouted a command. He turned to the bed, sat to pull on his boots, slipping the dagger into a scabbard hidden inside the soft leather, pulled on a linen shirt and then threw his ragged woolen cape around his shoulders.
“Who are you?” he asked, coming unwillingly to the door.
The man made no answer, but simply turned and led the way as the two guards waited in the corridor for Luca to come out of his cell and follow.
“Where are you taking me?”
The two guards fell in behind him without answering. Luca wanted to ask if he was under arrest, if he was being marched to a summary execution, but he did not dare. He was fearful of the very question; he acknowledged to himself that he was terrified of the answer. He could feel himself sweating with fear under his woolen cape, though the air was icy and the stone walls were cold and damp.
He knew that he was in the most serious trouble of his young life. Only yesterday four dark-hooded men had taken him from his monastery and brought him here, to this prison, without a word of explanation. He did not know where he was or who was holding him. He did not know what charge he might face. He did not know what the punishment might be. He did not know if he was going to be beaten, tortured or killed.
“I insist on seeing a priest, I wish to confess . . .” he said.
They paid no attention to him at all, but pressed him on, down the narrow stone-flagged gallery. It was silent, with the closed doors of cells on either side. He could not tell if it was a prison or a monastery, it was so cold and quiet. It was just after midnight, and the place was in darkness and utterly still. Luca’s guides made no noise as they walked along the gallery, down the stone steps, through a great hall and then down a little spiral staircase into a darkness that grew more and more black as the air grew more and more cold.
“I demand to know where you are taking me,” Luca insisted, but his voice shook with fear.
No one answered him, but the guard behind him closed up a little.
At the bottom of the steps, Luca could just see a small arched doorway and a heavy wooden door. The leading man opened it with a key from his pocket and gestured that Luca should go through. When he hesitated, the guard behind him simply moved closer until the menacing bulk of his body pressed Luca onward.
“I insist . . .” Luca breathed.
A hard shove thrust him through the doorway, and he gasped as he found himself flung to the very edge of a high, narrow quay, a boat rocking in the river a long way below, the far bank a dark blur in the distance. Luca flinched back from the brink. He had a sudden dizzying sense that they would be as willing to throw him over, onto the rocks below, as to take him down the steep stairs to the boat.
The first man went light-footed down the wet steps, stepped into the boat and said one word to the boatman who stood in the stern, holding the vessel against the current with the deft movements of a single oar. Then he looked back up to the handsome white-faced young man.
“Come,” he ordered.
Luca could do nothing else. He followed the man down the greasy steps, clambered into the boat and seated himself in the prow. The boatman did not wait for the guards but turned his craft into the middle of the river and let the current sweep them around the city wall. Luca glanced down into the dark water. If he were to fling himself over the side of the boat, he would be swept downstream—he might be able to swim with the current and make it to the other side and get away. But the water was flowing so fast he thought he was more likely to drown, if they did not come after him in the boat and knock him senseless with the oar.
“My lord,” he said, trying for dignity. “May I ask you now where we are going?”
“You’ll know soon enough,” came the terse reply. The river ran like a wide moat around the tall walls of the city of Rome. The boatman kept the little craft close to the lee of the walls, hidden from the sentries above; then Luca saw ahead of them the looming shape of a stone bridge and, just before it, a grille set in an arched stone doorway of the wall. As the boat nosed inward, the grille slipped noiselessly up and, with one practiced push of the oar, they shot inside, into a torch-lit cellar.
With a deep lurch of fear, Luca wished that he had taken his chance with the river. There were half a dozen grim-faced men waiting for him, and as the boatman held a well-worn ring on the wall to steady the craft, they reached down and hauled Luca out of the boat, to push him down a narrow corridor. Luca felt, rather than saw, thick stone walls on either side, smooth wooden floorboards underfoot; heard his own breathing, ragged with fear; then they paused before a heavy wooden door, struck it with a single knock and waited.
A voice from inside the room said, “Come!” and the guard swung the door open and thrust Luca inside. Luca stood, heart pounding, blinking at the sudden brightness of dozens of wax candles, and heard the door close silently behind him.
A solitary man was sitting at a table, papers before him. He wore a robe of rich velvet in so dark a blue that it appeared almost black, the hood completely concealing his face from Luca, who stood before the table and swallowed down his fear. Whatever happened, he decided, he was not going to beg for his life. Somehow, he would find the courage to face whatever was coming. He would not shame himself, nor his tough stoic father, by whimpering like a girl.
“You will be wondering why you are here, where you are, and who I am,” the man said. “I will tell you these things. But, first, you must answer me everything that I ask. Do you understand?”
“You must not lie to me. Your life hangs in the balance here, and you cannot guess what answers I would prefer. Be sure to tell the truth: you would be a fool to die for a lie.”
Luca tried to nod but found he was shaking.
“You are Luca Vero, a novice priest at the monastery of St. Xavier, having joined the monastery when you were a boy of eleven? You have been an orphan for the last three years, since your parents died when you were fourteen?”
“My parents disappeared,” Luca said. He cleared his tight throat. “They may not be dead. They were captured by an Ottoman raid, but nobody saw them killed. Nobody knows where they are now, but they may very well be alive.”
The Inquisitor made a minute note on a piece of paper before him. Luca watched the tip of the black feather as the quill moved across the page. “You hope,” the man said briefly. “You hope that they are alive and will come back to you.” He spoke as if hope was the greatest folly.
“Raised by the brothers, sworn to join their holy order, yet you went to your confessor, and then to the abbot, and told them that the relic that they keep at the monastery, a nail from the true cross, was a fake.”
The monotone voice was accusation enough. Luca knew this was a citation of his heresy. He knew also that the only punishment for heresy was death.
“I didn’t mean . . .”
“Why did you say the relic was a fake?”
Luca looked down at his boots, at the dark wooden floor, at the heavy table, at the lime-washed walls—anywhere but at the shadowy face of the softly spoken questioner. “I will beg the abbot’s pardon and do penance,” he said. “I didn’t mean heresy. Before God, I am no heretic. I meant no wrong.”
“I shall be the judge if you are a heretic, and I have seen younger men than you, who have done and said less than you, crying on the rack for mercy as their joints pop from their sockets. I have heard better men than you begging for the stake, longing for death as their only release from pain.”
Luca shook his head at the thought of the Inquisition, which could order this fate for him and see it done, and think it to the glory of God. He dared to say nothing more.
“Why did you say the relic was a fake?”
“I did not mean . . .”
“It is a piece of a nail about three inches long, and a quarter of an inch wide,” Luca said unwillingly. “You can see it, though it is now mounted in gold and covered with jewels. But you can still see the size of it.”
The Inquisitor nodded. “So?”
“The abbey of St. Peter has a nail from the true cross. So does the abbey of St. Joseph. I looked in the monastery library to see if there were any others, and there are about four hundred nails in Italy alone, more in France, more in Spain, more in England.”
The man waited in unsympathetic silence.
“I calculated the likely size of the nails,” Luca said miserably. “I calculated the number of pieces that they might have been broken into. It didn’t add up. There are far too many relics for them all to come from one crucifixion. The Bible says a nail in each palm and one through the feet. That’s only three nails.” Luca glanced at the dark face of his interrogator. “It’s not blasphemy to say this, I don’t think. The Bible itself says it clearly. Then, in addition, if you count the nails used in building the cross, there would be four at the central joint to hold the cross bar. That makes seven original nails. Only seven. Say each nail is about five inches long. That’s about thirty-five inches of nails used in the true cross. But there are thousands of relics. That’s not to say whether any nail or any fragment is genuine or not. It’s not for me to judge. But I can’t help but see that there are just too many nails for them all to come from one cross.”
Still the man said nothing.
“It’s numbers,” Luca said helplessly. “It’s how I think. I think about numbers—they interest me.”
“You took it upon yourself to study this? And you took it upon yourself to decide that there are too many nails in churches around the world for them all to be true, for them all to come from the sacred cross?”
Luca dropped to his knees, knowing himself to be guilty. “I meant no wrong,” he whispered upward at the shadowy figure. “I just started wondering, and then I made the calculations, and then the abbot found my paper where I had written the calculations and—” He broke off.
“The abbot, quite rightly, accused you of heresy and forbidden studies, misquoting the Bible for your own purposes, reading without guidance, showing independence of thought, studying without permission, at the wrong time, studying forbidden books . . .” the man continued, reading from the list. He looked at Luca. “Thinking for yourself. That’s the worst of it, isn’t it? You were sworn into an order with certain established beliefs, and then you started thinking for yourself.”
Luca nodded. “I am sorry.”
“The priesthood does not need men who think for themselves.”
“I know,” Luca said, very low.
“You made a vow of obedience—that is a vow not to think for yourself.”
Luca bowed his head, waiting to hear his sentence.
The flame of the candles bobbed as somewhere outside a door opened and a cold draft blew through the rooms.
“Always thought like this? With numbers?”
“Any friends in the monastery? Have you discussed this with anyone?”
He shook his head. “I didn’t discuss this.”
The man looked at his notes. “You have a companion called Freize?”
Luca smiled for the first time. “He’s just the kitchen boy at the monastery,” he said. “He took a liking to me as soon as I arrived, when I was just eleven. He was only twelve or thirteen himself. He made up his mind that I was too thin; he said I wouldn’t last the winter. He kept bringing me extra food. He’s just the spit lad, really.”
“You have no brother or sister?”
“I am alone in the world.”
“You miss your parents?”
“You are lonely?” The way he said it sounded like yet another accusation.
“I suppose so. I feel very alone, if that is the same thing.”
The man rested the black feather of the quill against his lips in thought. “Your parents . . .” He returned to the first question of the interrogation. “They were quite old when you were born?”
“Yes,” Luca said, surprised. “Yes.”
“People talked at the time, I understand. That such an old couple should suddenly give birth to a son, and such a handsome son, who grew to be such an exceptionally clever boy?”
“It’s a small village,” Luca said defensively. “People have nothing to do but gossip.”
“But clearly, you are handsome. Clearly, you are clever. And yet they did not brag about you or show you off. They kept you quietly at home.”
“We were close,” Luca replied. “We were a close, small family. We troubled nobody else, we lived quietly, the three of us.”
“Then why did they give you to the Church? Was it that they thought you would be safer inside the Church? That you were specially gifted? That you needed the Church’s protection?”
Luca, still on his knees, shuffled in discomfort. “I don’t know. I was a child: I was only eleven. I don’t know what they were thinking.”
The Inquisitor waited.
“They wanted me to have the education of a priest,” he said eventually. “My father—” He paused at the thought of his beloved father, of his gray hair and his hard grip, of his tenderness to his funny, quirky little son. “My father was very proud that I learned to read, that I taught myself about numbers. He couldn’t write or read himself; he thought it was a great talent. Then when some gypsies came through the village, I learned their language.”
The man made a note. “You can speak languages?”
“People remarked that I learned to speak Romany in a day. My father thought that I had a gift, a God-given gift. It’s not so uncommon,” he tried to explain. “Freize, the spit boy, is good with animals; he can do anything with horses, he can ride anything. My father thought that I had a gift like that, only for studying. He wanted me to be more than a farmer. He wanted me to do better.”
The Inquisitor sat back in his chair, as if he was weary of listening, as if he had heard more than enough. “You can get up.”
He looked at the paper with its few black ink notes as Luca scrambled to his feet. “Now I will answer the questions that will be in your mind. I am the spiritual commander of an Order appointed by the Holy Father, the Pope himself, and I answer to him for our work. You need not know my name nor the name of the Order. We have been commanded by Pope Nicholas V to explore the mysteries, the heresies and the sins, to explain them where possible, and defeat them where we can. We are making a map of the fears of the world, traveling outward from Rome to the very ends of Christendom, to discover what people are saying, what they are fearing, what they are fighting. We have to know where the Devil is walking through the world. The Holy Father knows that we are approaching the end of days.”
“The end of days?”
“When Christ comes again to judge the living, the dead and the undead. You will have heard that the Ottomans have taken Constantinople, the heart of the Byzantine Empire, the center of the Church in the east?”
Luca crossed himself. The fall of the eastern capital of the Church to an unbeatable army of heretics and infidels was the most terrible thing that could have happened, an unimaginable disaster.
“Next, the forces of darkness will come against Rome, and if Rome falls it will be the end of days—the end of the world. Our task is to defend Christendom, to defend Rome—in this world, and in the unseen world beyond.”
“The unseen world?”
“It is all around us,” the man said flatly. “I see it, perhaps as clearly as you see numbers. And every year, every day, it presses more closely. People come to me with stories of showers of blood, of a dog that can smell out the plague, of witchcraft, of lights in the sky, of water that is wine. The end of days approaches and there are hundreds of manifestations of good and evil, miracles and heresies. A young man like you can perhaps tell me which of these are true and which are false, which are the work of God and which of the Devil.” He rose from his great wooden chair and pushed a fresh sheet of paper across the table to Luca. “See this?”
Luca looked at the marks on the paper. It was the writing of heretics, the Moors’ way of numbering. Luca had been taught as a child that one stroke of the pen meant one: I, two strokes meant two: II, and so on. But these were strange, rounded shapes. He had seen them before, but the merchants in his village and the almoner at the monastery stubbornly refused to use them, clinging to the old ways.
“This means one: 1, this two: 2, and this three: 3,” the man said, the black feather tip of his quill pointing to the marks. “Put the 1 here, in this column, it means ‘one,’ but put it here and this blank beside it and it means ‘ten,’ or put it here and two blanks beside it, it means ‘one hundred.’”
Luca gaped. “The position of the number shows its value?”
“Just so.” The man pointed the plume of the black feather to the shape of the blank, like an elongated O, which filled the columns. His arm stretched from the sleeve of his robe, and Luca looked from the O to the white skin of the man’s inner wrist. Tattooed on the inside of his arm, so that it almost appeared engraved on skin, Luca could just make out the head and twisted tail of a dragon, a design in red ink of a dragon coiled around on itself.
“This is not just a blank, it is not just an O, it is what they call a zero. Look at the position of it—that means something. What if it meant something of itself?”
“Does it mean a space?” Luca said, looking at the paper again. “Does it mean: nothing?”
“It is a number like any other,” the man told him. “They have made a number from nothing. So they can calculate to nothing, and beyond.”
“Beyond? Beyond nothing?”
The man pointed to another number: -10. “That is beyond nothing. That is ten places beyond nothing, that is the numbering of absence,” he said.
Luca, with his mind whirling, reached out for the paper. But the man quietly drew it back toward him and placed his broad hand over it, keeping it from Luca like a prize he would have to win. The sleeve fell down over his wrist again, hiding the tattoo. “You know how they got to that sign, the number zero?” he asked.
Luca shook his head. “Who got to it?”
“Arabs, Moors, Ottomans, call them what you will. Mussulmen, Muslim-men, infidels, our enemies, our new conquerors. Do you know how they got that sign?”
“It is the shape left by a counter in the sand when you have taken the counter away. It is the symbol for nothing, it looks like a nothing. It is what it symbolizes. That is how they think. That is what we have to learn from them.”
“I don’t understand. What do we have to learn?”
“To look, and look, and look. That is what they do. They look at everything, they think about everything, that is why they have seen stars in the sky that we have never seen. That is why they make physic from plants that we have never noticed.” He pulled his hood closer, so that his face was completely shadowed. “That is why they will defeat us unless we learn to see like they see, to think like they think, to count like they count. Perhaps a young man like you can learn their language too.”
Luca could not take his eyes from the paper where the man had marked out ten spaces of counting, down to zero and then beyond.
“So, what do you think?” the Inquisitor asked him. “Do you think ten nothings are beings of the unseen world? Like ten invisible things? Ten ghosts? Ten angels?”
“If you could calculate beyond nothing,” Luca started, “you could show what you had lost. Say someone was a merchant, and his debt in one country, or on one voyage, was greater than his fortune, you could show exactly how much his debt was. You could show his loss. You could show how much less than nothing he had, how much he would have to earn before he had something again.”
“Yes,” the man said. “With zero you can measure what is not there. The Ottomans took Constantinople and our empire in the east not only because they had the strongest armies and the best commanders, but because they had a weapon that we did not have: a cannon so massive that it took sixty oxen to pull it into place. They have knowledge of things that we don’t understand. The reason that I sent for you, the reason that you were expelled from your monastery but not punished there for disobedience or tortured for heresy there, is that I want you to learn these mysteries; I want you to explore them, so that we can know them, and arm ourselves against them.”
“Is zero one of the things I must study? Will I go to the Ottomans and learn from them? Will I learn about their studies?”
The man laughed and pushed the piece of paper with the Arabic numerals toward the novice priest, holding it with one finger on the page. “I will let you have this,” he promised. “It can be your reward when you have worked to my satisfaction and set out on your mission. And yes, perhaps you will go to the infidels and live among them and learn their ways. But for now, you have to swear obedience to me and to our Order. I will send you out to be my ears and eyes. I will send you to hunt for mysteries, to find knowledge. I will send you to map fears, to seek darkness in all its shapes and forms. I will send you out to understand things, to be part of our Order that seeks to understand everything.”
He could see Luca’s face light up at the thought of a life devoted to inquiry. But then the young man hesitated. “I won’t know what to do,” Luca confessed. “I wouldn’t know where to begin. I understand nothing! How will I know where to go or what to do?”
“I am going to send you to be trained. I will send you to study with masters. They will teach you the law and what powers you have to convene a court or an inquiry. You will learn what to look for and how to question someone. You will understand when someone must be released to earthly powers—the mayors of towns or the lords of the manor—or when they can be punished by the Church. You will learn when to forgive and when to punish. When you are ready, when you have been trained, I will send you on your first mission.”
“You will be trained for some months and then I shall send you out into the world with my orders,” the man said. “You will go where I command and study what you find there. You will report to me. You may judge and punish where you find wrongdoing. You may exorcise devils and unclean spirits. You may learn. You may question everything, all the time. But you will serve God and me, as I tell you. You will be obedient to me and to the Order. And you will walk in the unseen world and look at unseen things, and question them.”
There was a silence. “You can go,” the man said, as if he had given the simplest of instructions. Luca started from his silent attention and went to the door. As his hand was on the bronze handle the man said: “One thing more . . .”
“They said you were a changeling, didn’t they?” The accusation dropped into the room like a sudden shower of ice. “The people of the village? When they gossiped about you being born, so handsome and so clever, to a woman who had been barren all her life, to a man who could neither read nor write. They said you were a changeling, left on her doorstep by the faeries, didn’t they?”
There was a cold silence. Luca’s stern young face revealed nothing. “I have never answered such a question, and I hope that I never do. I don’t know what they said about us,” he said harshly. “They were ignorant, fearful country people. My mother said to pay no attention to the things they said. She said that she was my mother and that she loved me above all else. That’s all that mattered, not stories about faerie children.”
The man laughed shortly and waved Luca to go, and watched as the door closed behind him. “Perhaps I am sending out a changeling to map fear itself,” he said to himself as he tidied the papers together and pushed back his chair. “What a joke for the worlds seen and unseen! A faerie child in the Order. A faerie child to map fear.”
Reading Group Guide
A Reading Group Guide to
Changeling: Order of Darkness Book One
By Philippa Gregory
About the Book
It is 1453: The Church reigns supreme in Europe, but there are disturbing signs that the Muslims in the East are getting stronger and suspicions that the End of Days may be approaching. Novice priest Luca Vero, aged seventeen, joins a secret church order that battles evil by investigating mysteries—spiritual mysteries. At the same time, recently orphaned Lady Isolde of Lucretili, also seventeen, finds herself banished to the local nunnery. Isolde and her Moorish servant and best friend, Ishraq, immediately suspect that something is not right at the Abbey: nuns are fainting in chapel, seeing visions, sleepwalking, even finding bloody stigmata on their palms. Is it the work of the devil? Her worst fears seem confirmed when the Abbey receives a visitor: investigator Luca Vero, accompanied by his servant, Freize, and a dour clerk, Brother Peter. What dark force is terrifying the nuns and causing them to act this way? Can Luca and Isolde uncover the true source of the problem?
1. In the first chapter, we learn that Luca’s monastery has accused of him of heresy. What is heresy, and why is it so harshly punished by the Church?
2. Why has Luca, who loves numbers and calculations, never heard of the numeral zero? Why is he so excited when he learns about it?
3. Isolde’s brother tells her that her father’s will left her two options: to marry the drunken and brutish Prince Roberto, or to renounce her wealth and live her entire life as a nun, with no husband or family. Why does Isolde choose the nunnery? Which option would you choose? Why?
4. How does the relationship between Luca and Freize change over the course of the book?
5. Luca and Isolde both have some of the qualities a monk or nun should possess, but lack others. What do you think were the most important requirements for the religious life? What would you do if you found yourself poorly suited for the career your parents chose for you, or the one you planned to pursue?
6. How do various characters—Isolde, the Lady Almoner, Freize, and others—perceive Ishraq? In what ways is she different from others in her society? How do people today react to those they perceive as different from themselves?
7. What are some of the explanations that the nuns, the villagers, and others offer for the strange goings-on at the nunnery, and for the wild creature they capture? How do people today seek to explain phenomena they cannot understand?
8. How does the Lady Almoner explain the presence of gold in the nunnery’s storeroom loft to Luca and Freize? What is the true explanation?
9. Why do Luca, Freize, and the Lady Almoner think that Isolde and Ishraq are holding a Satanic mass using the body of Sister Reeve? What are they actually doing? Why does no one believe their explanation?
10. We never learn how Isolde and Ishraq escaped the Abbey’s gatehouse cellar. How do you think they escaped? Why do you think Freize claimed that he released them?
11. What are the differences between the way that Isolde’s father raised her and the education he provided for Ishraq? Why were the two trained differently? Whose knowledge and skills do you think are more useful? Whose position in society would you prefer to occupy?
12. The villagers think that Sara Fairley’s son Stefan was taken by a werewolf; Brother Peter thinks that Sara had a hand in his disappearance. What actually happened?
13. Together, Freize and Ishraq save the captured werewolf from execution. Why? How?
Guide written by Susie Steinbach, Professor of History, Hamline University, College of Liberal Arts.
This guide has been provided by Simon & Schuster for classroom, library, and reading group use. It may be reproduced in its entirety or excerpted for these purposes.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
As a reader who enjoys historical fiction and Philippa Gregory's novels I was anxious to read her first Fictional young adult novel. Keeping in mind that the target audience for this book is young adults-or teenagers, this book departs from Ms. Gregory's previous books. The characters were not as well developed and the plot not as detailed as in her other works. I didn't feel as involved with the characters and their quests. While I did enjoy reading it, I felt that it was moke like an introduction into the other books. That being said, I still would probably continue reading the series
Luca was to be a priest. Then he was suspected of something or other and sent to an inquisitor for questioning. To Luca's surprise, he was to become a member of a secret order that investigates reports of 'dark' occurrences. His first task is to look into an abbey and the abbess, Isolde. ----- Isolde is the daughter of a rich and well respected Lord. The Lord planned to split his properties and monies between Isolde and her older brother. According to her brother who forbid Isolde to be present at her father's deathbed, the Lord changed his mind and ordered Isolde to marry or become the abess. Isolde chose the latter, where she would come face to face with the young new inquisitor, Luca. ----- It is rare that I dislike a book so much I do not even finish it. Unfortunately, after 93 pages, I did not have the will to go on. I have a policy that I read 100 pages before passing this kind of judgment, but I just could not do it. Changeling was that bad. I think Philippa Gregory should fire her copy editor; he is obviously lazy. Gregory's copy editor must have assumed that since Gregory's previous books were so successful, this one would be no different. He was sadly mistaken. ----- The writing is atrocious; it is boring, repetitive and sometimes just plain dumb: ----- "Course I do! Course you are! Course you will!" ----- Really? Gregory was incapable of anything better than that, possibly, "Course I do! You are and you will." Gregory's version sounds and looks like a presidential campaign slogan. ----- And then the dumb just continues: ----- He found he was smiling at her, though he could not see if she was smiling back. "Lady Abbess, you are not an easy woman to interrogate" "Brother Luca, you are not an easy man to refuse," she replied, and she rose from the table without permission and left the room. ----- This was after the Lady Abbess had refused to pull back her hood, told him if he ordered her to get rid of her companion she would disobey his orders and refused to immediately send another nun for questioning. In any other book I would say she was mocking Luca, but it actually sounds like Gregory is setting the scene for a love story and this is actually flirting! The horror! ----- I could over look these portions if they were not representative of the writing as a whole, but depressingly, they are. I do not know what happened here, but Changeling, through page 93 at least, was just awful and I wish I had the time back. ----- 1 out of 5 stars.
(Source: I borrowed a copy of this book.) It is 1453. Isolde's father has just died. She understood that he had left his castle and possessions to her, but now that he has died her brother claims all was left to him. He tells Isolde that she must marry this prince (suposedly selected by her father) and recieve a very small dowery, or become a nun. Isolde thinks on her options, but when the prince comes to her room that night and tries to rape her, she realises her only option is to become a nun. Luca is a changeling who from the age of 11 was brought up by monks. He has a gift for numbers, and has been sent on some kind of quest to investigate the number zero, and negative numberS. I don't mind historical fiction when the story interests me, but this just didn't. I was just bored right from the start. I wasn't really sure where Luca's quest was taking him, and I immediately hated Isolde's brother and the way he was treating her. I have to admit that I only picked this book up because I liked the cover. Don't think I'm going to be able to finish this one though. I know a book is boring when I consider doing the dusting instead of reading. Glad other people enjoyed it, but definitely not for me. 4 out of 10.
My thoughts on the audio: Charlie Cox has appeared on series such as, Downton Abbey and Boardwalk Empire. His acting credits are numerous to say the least. Cox takes on Phillipa Gregory's Changeling with little fault. His voice is very pleasant to listen to. He reads the dialog with expression and great feeling. The only problem I encountered was with the narration. When the characters weren't speaking Cox's voice was very low, and at times almost mumbling. I had to listen very carefully so that I didn't miss anything. If he continues narrating this series, I hope that is something that he will work on. Other than that, this is an enjoyable listen. My thoughts on the story: Changeling is the first book in a new young adult series, Order of Darkness by Phillipa Gregory. Gregory is well known for her historical novels about the Tudors. She once again dives into the past for her latest novel. The story follows Luca Vero who is accused of heresy for questioning the Church. He doesn't take things at face value. However, his questioning gets him recruited by the Pope to join The Order of the Dragon. He is sent out on missions to investigate strange and unusual things as well as to root out evil. You could call him a paranormal investigator of sorts. Luca is sent to investigate a nunnery that has had occurrences of strange events. There his meets Isolde, a lady abbess, who was sent there by her brother after her father passed away. Isolde is being accused of witchcraft, a series charge. Both Luca and Isolde are out to discover the truth. The story line was interesting. Luca is sent out on missions to discover the truth behind the superstitions and fears of medieval times. Luca is very observant and level headed. He doesn't give into histrionics easily, but has an eye for detail. He is thrown off by Isolde. Isolde is not like the women of this time period. She is very strong and intelligent. Luca admires her from the beginning. Isolde's characters is a bit of a mystery. Together with her long time friend and companion, Ishraq, they risk everything to find out the truth and live life on their own terms. Changeling is a good first book to this series. The story kept my attention throughout. Gregory did a fantastic job at exploring how fast superstition and rumors can cause hysterics in medieval times. How one whisper of dark magic could turn a whole town into a raging mass. It was a little predictable at times, but it's definitely worth checking out. I think fans of Phillipa Gregory will enjoy this series. Gregory will reach a younger generation with this new series. I will definitely want to keep up with this series to see what the author has in store for Luca and Isolde.
I usually love Gregory's books, but this book was boring... she started to make it a teen romance/adventure novel, but forced the history and religion so much the three impeded each other. It was like she couldn't decide which genre she was writing in! I couldn't even finish it, and I never stop reading a book if I can help it!
Reviewed by Alice D. for Readers Favorite Author Philippa Gregory writes excellent historical fiction as she is highly knowledgeable and a great writer as well. Her new series, 'Order of Darkness', represents the author's consummate ability to create fiction that not only tells of history but will engage the reader who might shun historical fiction otherwise. The setting is Italy in the year 1453 and seventeen year-old Luca Vero is expelled from his monastery while being recruited by someone at the highest levels of the Catholic Church to investigate religion and its violation by outside forces. Luca meets up with seventeen year old Isolde, now a Lady Abbbess in a nunnery as she refuses to marry the man her noble family has selected. Nuns in Isolde's convent are having visions and show bleeding wounds. Is this evidence of heresy or could it be the work of Isolde's brother and his mistress? "The Changeling" is the first in Author Philippa Gregory's new series, 'Order of Darkness', and in CD format, it is read and performed perfectly by distinguished actor, Charlie Cox. "The Changeling" itself is a fine work of historical fiction with fascinating characters like Luca and Isolde. Its dialogue is true to the medieval times in which it takes place but is easily understood and will appeal to the listener. The plot line develops well as Isolde's brother's complicity is not immediately apparent. The listening time is not hours long and CD format fans will enjoy listening to this first-rate story as they commute to work or just go about their everyday business.
Received for Review in AudioOverall Rating: 3.50Story Rating: 3.25 Character Rating: 3.75Audio Rating (Not part of the Overall Rating): 3.00First Thought When Finished: This was an enjoyable quick read but the pacing was a little off.What I Loved: The setting in Changeling is so vivid that you can't help getting sucked in immediately to these characters lives. The setting, time, and general atmosphere were as critical to the story as the characters. I really loved both Luca and Isolde! They were such strong people who were a nice combo of smart and strong. Their companions were all strong characters too and the story just shined through their dialogue and interactions.What I Liked: Initially I wasn't sure if I would like the multiple stories but in the end I think it worked perfectly to flush these characters out more. Luca's "job" was both fascinating and unusual. Though there is a throw out to paranormal, you quickly realize that there was a very real time where people believed and feared these things that were unusual. I really liked this piece of history being thrown in.What made me go huh?: This is being touted as a Historical YA book but to be honest if you were 17 or 18 in that time period you were clearly already an adult. I thought the characters were a little too naive and sheltered at times. This however is just a quirk of mine.Audio Specific Review: Charlie Cox did a wonderful job with all of the characters! However, the pacing was a little slow to me in certain areas of the story. I am not sure if that was due to the narration or the story itself.Final Thought: If you are a fan of Historical Fiction I think you will enjoy Changeling.
After the death of her loving father, Isolde's world is turned upside-down: according to her elder brother, instead of leaving her the lands and the home she grew up in, her father decreed on his deathbed that she would be married or sent to the nunnery. Heartbroken, grieving, and with no other options, Isolde sets out for the nunnery with her childhood friend Ishraq.A few months later, Luca Vero - a brother accused of heresy for questioning the authenticity of an ancient artifact - is sent by the Pope to investigate that very same nunnery. When he arrives, he discovers a shocking truth: every since the arrival of Isolde and her companion, the nuns have been experiencing horrible visions... and some have even received gruesome marks on their bodies. Something is not right, and it's Luca's job to find out what's going on. Now, armed with nothing but his orders from the Order of the Dragon, Luca must find whoever is responsible for the strange events occurring inside the holy place - even if it means arresting the mysterious girl who is so much more than she appears to be. First off, I'd like to say a big thank-you to everyone at Simon & Schuster for allowing me to read and review an ARC from one of my favourite authors of all time. Thank you so much for the opportunity! I've been a huge fan of Philippa Gregory's for years, and I swear I shamelessly let out a little fan-girl shriek when I opened up Changeling. Changeling was an amazing read that encompassed all of my favourite genres: romance, historical fiction, and even a little bit of paranormal. I adored every minute of it - and that is not an exaggeration. The characters were so well-written and deep that I felt like I knew them personally. I admired Isolde's spirit and Luca's refusal to believe something just because he was told he had to. The supporting characters were awesome as well and added another layer to the story - Freize was definitely one of my favourites.Gregory did an amazing job weaving this story together - there's no doubt in my mind that she's one of the master storytellers of our time. Her descriptions of Italy during the 15th century effortlessly pulled me in, painting an amazingly clear picture of Luca and Isolde's world in my mind. She also managed to create some of the best character chemistry I've ever read - I can't wait to see where she takes it in the next installment of the series. I definitely (bold, underline, italics, whatever else I can do to that world to emphasize how much I mean it) recommend this novel to anyone who enjoys historical fiction, romance, paranormal YA, and anyone who is a fan of Philippa Gregory's work.
In short: Though Philippa Gregory is well known and liked for her adult historical novels, I do not believe her writing and characterization translated well to her YA debut, Changeling.The synopsis for Changeling is a bit misleading. I was led to believe it would be historical fantasy, what with the mention of werewolves and witches, but instead it is just plain historical fiction. Not that that's a bad thing - after all, historical novels are what author Philippa Gregory excels at. Changeling is set during the Crusades, a period of utter ridiculousness, which allowed for a plot that was ripe with possibilities for entertainment. Seriously, the stuff people used to believe - without any concrete evidence beforehand - is beyond insane and unfounded. Philippa Gregory makes sure to exploit the ridiculousness of the Crusades, with her expert knowledge of history, to its full extent.Despite this, I can't say I was completely entertained and enthralled with Changeling. The story felt very disjointed as it was split into two completely separate story lines, one revolving around a nunnery and one a werewolf, and neither of them were particularly interesting. The characterization was also bland, save for a few secondary characters, making it hard to care much about what happened to these characters. And the writing, to be honest, left much to be desired, which was surprising because I was expecting a lot from Philippa Gregory. But at best the writing was bare-boned, without any flourish or interest, and at worst, kind of... well, bad. (Note: I really dislike describing an author's writing as bad because I am by no means a good writer myself, obviously, so my apologies for my hypocrisy here).I have not read any of Gregory's adult historical novels, but I understand from their popularity that they are quite well done and detailed. It's unfortunate then that my first exposure to her work was though Changeling, her YA debut, as I do not believe Gregory's writing and characterization translated well to YA. As such, I will not be continuing with this series. It wouldn't feel fair for me to judge her writing just based off of Changeling though, so I would like to give her adult works a try sometime.
My thoughts on the audio:Charlie Cox has appeared on series such as, Downton Abbey and Boardwalk Empire. His acting credits are numerous to say the least. Cox takes on Phillipa Gregory's Changeling with little fault. His voice is very pleasant to listen to. He reads the dialog with expression and great feeling. The only problem I encountered was with the narration. When the characters weren't speaking Cox's voice was very low, and at times almost mumbling. I had to listen very carefully so that I didn't miss anything. If he continues narrating this series, I hope that is something that he will work on. Other than that, this is an enjoyable listen. My thoughts on the story:Changeling is the first book in a new young adult series, Order of Darkness by Phillipa Gregory. Gregory is well known for her historical novels about the Tudors. She once again dives into the past for her latest novel.The story follows Luca Vero who is accused of heresy for questioning the Church. He doesn't take things at face value. However, his questioning gets him recruited by the Pope to join The Order of the Dragon. He is sent out on missions to investigate strange and unusual things as well as to root out evil. You could call him a paranormal investigator of sorts. Luca is sent to investigate a nunnery that has had occurrences of strange events. There his meets Isolde, a lady abbess, who was sent there by her brother after her father passed away. Isolde is being accused of witchcraft, a series charge. Both Luca and Isolde are out to discover the truth.The story line was interesting. Luca is sent out on missions to discover the truth behind the superstitions and fears of medieval times. Luca is very observant and level headed. He doesn't give into histrionics easily, but has an eye for detail. He is thrown off by Isolde. Isolde is not like the women of this time period. She is very strong and intelligent. Luca admires her from the beginning. Isolde's characters is a bit of a mystery. Together with her long time friend and companion, Ishraq, they risk everything to find out the truth and live life on their own terms.Changeling is a good first book to this series. The story kept my attention throughout. Gregory did a fantastic job at exploring how fast superstition and rumors can cause hysterics in medieval times. How one whisper of dark magic could turn a whole town into a raging mass. It was a little predictable at times, but it's definitely worth checking out. I think fans of Phillipa Gregory will enjoy this series. Gregory will reach a younger generation with this new series. I will definitely want to keep up with this series to see what the author has in store for Luca and Isolde.
Drawn into story on first page
This story had some interesting moments, but it also had quite a bit of down time where not a whole lot really happened. The whole situation in the beginning with Isolde and her brother bothered me. It was obvious what her brother was doing, yet Isolde was completely oblivious. She seems pretty smart for the most part, so it didn't match her character to just blindly believe him. There's an attraction between Isolde and Luca. I think their relationship will be one that progresses pretty slowly, and that's okay. It's a nice change to not have insta love. Ultimately, I'm not sure where the story is going. It didn't seem to have any direction yet. They came across unrelated conflicts, and they were resolved, but there doesn't seem to be one big underlying conflict/theme going on yet. I'm undecided as to if I'll read more in this series. It just didn't grab me like I hoped it would.
I did not realize that this was a book more for teens/younger, so it is an easier read, but very good. I finished it and am or will try to find the 2nd book to get the next story. Thanks for a god read and book!
Awkward silence... :/
I loved the story and I am a grandma! Gregory delivers even for teens!
This series is a fun, eventful series of books to enjoy. You can't help but fall in love with every character.
A very interesting book, I completely enjoyed it, hope there are more of this story to come, soon.
Waits for clans.
Loved it. I love all Ms. Gregorys books
You are all my soldiers!
[::::::::::]:::::::::::::::> Cool sword right?
I am glad I read this book. It is the first book I have read by Philippa Gregory, and I understand that it is different than the types of books she normally writes. The story follows five people, Luca, Brother Peter, Freize, Isolde, and Ishraq on their journeys. Luca and Isolde are both very strong and passionate characters, whom are tested throughout the book. Ishraq is a very strong and mysterious character. Freize is the servant of Luca, but stands up for himself and thinks on his own. The two events which occur are both very captivating, but have predictable endings. About a third of the way into the book, it gets pretty slow, but then picks up again. I also think Freize's character can get annoying at times because he talks too much. As a whole, the book was quite compelling and I will probably read more books by Philippa Gregory.
A very interesting historical story. Loved it. Everyone should read it!!!