Friday, January 2, 2009

Death Comes As Epiphany - Sharan Newman

A medievalist breathes life and vigour into the scholastic debates and religious controversies of 12th-century France in this entrancing mystery debut. Catherine LeVendeur, a young novice and scholar at the Convent of the Paraclete, is sent by the Abbess Heloise on a perilous mission to find out who is trying to destroy the reputation of the convent and, through it, that of the abbess's onetime lover and patron, theologian Peter Abelard. A Psalter created at the convent and given as a gift to the powerful abbot Suger of Saint-Denis is later rumoured to contain heretical statements in its accompanying commentaries. Catherine, in the role of a disgraced novice, must find the book and copy the disputed passages to determine if they are forgeries. Further complicating her search, Saint-Denis's master stonemason, Garnulf, is murdered, a crime which may be tied to the sinister hermit Aleran and the rebuilding of the splendid Abbey of Saint-Denis. Re-entering worldly life, the young novice must face both her sometimes disapproving family and her attraction to Garnulf's mysterious apprentice, Edgar.

There were several things attractive to me in this book, it’s a medieval, it’s a mystery and it features Abelard and Heloise as secondary characters. I was looking forward to see how Newman would develop the story and I wasn’t disappointed.
Catherine Levendeur is a young novice at the Convent of the Paraclete, she isn’t as humble and well behaved as she could be but she believes she has a true vocation as the convent is the only place where she can pursue her studies. The convent seems to be under attack though and the Abbess Heloise asks Catherine to go back home to investigate who is trying to close them down. We get a glimpse of her life in the convent and, after she goes home, of the everyday life in the middle ages, the relationship with god and the divine... Newman doesn’t shy away from showing the good and bad parts of medieval living, not to mention the prejudices against women and other religions. In her quest to discover who falsified a Psalter from the convent Catherine has the help of Edgar, a young man who worked in the construction of the new abbey and has a few secrets to hide. Her relationship with him is interesting and full of tension; both seem a bit unaware at first of what is going on with them.
It’s obvious that Newman has a strong medieval background and can make the story and the characters come alive like no one. While a woman of her time Catherine knows the choices she can make and doesn’t hesitate to change the course of her life and go in search of her happiness even against her family’s wishes. Abelard and Heloise are not a big part of the story but what we get was enough for me to be interested and the setting of medieval France sounded like a breath of fresh air after so many books set in England (not that those are bad of course). Now I’m very interested in knowing what more life has in store for Catherine.

Grade: 4.5/5

1 comment:

  1. thanks for this review - the book's been added to my to read list ;0)


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