Wednesday, October 7, 2009

The Saint and The Fasting Girl - Anna Richenda

SISTER GEORGIA LIVES AT THE CENTER of a bustling Yorkshire nunnery at the eve of the English Reformation. Yet she is no ordinary nun. Georgia and her sisters follow the ways of the legendary Saint Isela, recording her signs and miracles and preparing for her return.

But the archbishop of London, Philip SeVerde, a man rising in Henry VIII’s royal court, cannot bear this ‘wild’ nunnery of the north. Driven by greed and a lust for power, SeVerde demands that the nuns submit to his control and strict monastic rule. Georgia is persecuted and tortured, yet she refuses to back down.

Drawing strength and visions from an ancient relic, Georgia must ensure that her mystical group of nuns survive the meddling of the corrupt archbishop. She must undergo an epic journey and endure, lifetime after lifetime, until the promise of Saint Isela can be fulfilled. It is the story of The Saint and the Fasting Girl.

The Saint and the Fasting Girl is a story divided in two parts. In the first Georgia is the Abbess in a Yorkshire Abbey that follows the ways of St Isela. The Saint has died and promised to return so Georgia lives to see that moment. When the story opens, the abbey and the nearest village are under attack; Georgia has a vision and knows she must save the baby girl whose birth is eminent as she will be an important part of St Isela's return.

Georgia manages to keep the Abbey safe but Phillip SeVerde, the archbishop of London, wants to control the land. They'll both fight for it, with SeVerde sending troops and Georgia trying to evade them while raising Lo, the baby who she believes will grow to be awakened to St Isela's story and eventually lead to St Isela’s return. However, in a period of religious instability that is the Kingdom of Henry VIII, the abbey ends up destroyed and Georgia is killed.

On the second part of the book a young girl, Jane, realises that she is Georgia. She must devote herself to prepare the way for St Isela’s return and the first thing is to look for the sisters who lost their home when the abbey was destroyed and to look for St Isela's treasure that she had hidden in the abbey.

While Jane is still a girl, she behaves very much like Georgia, set in her beliefs and determined to restore Isela's ways. She only behaves as a teenager when she grows fond of a young servant and we see them bickering their way to love. But her main concern is to save Lo, now a grown woman, from the man who has brutalised her and to find St Isela's treasure.

I think what I enjoyed the most about the book was how the author can really make us understand how religion was an integral part of the medieval mind. Everything was ruled by religion and social class. Not only we see in the story a lot of violence towards the lower orders but that behaviour seems to be expected and accepted by everyone.

I did like the first half of the book better because I had some trouble warming up to Jane. I was surprised by how she enters the story and in the beginning she is not very likeable. I must say that one of the interesting things of the story is that there are several twists that keep you guessing. In fact, given all that happens, the ending is also quite surprising. I only wish the "fasting girl" aspect had been more explored, both Georgia and Jane don't eat when they are worried and upset but they didn't seem to fast on purpose and I was very curious about that angle of the story after having read something about it on Anna Richenda's website.

I found this a very interesting and original story with its focus on monastic life and would definitely recommend it to anyone who enjoys reading about that period.

One final word to thank the author Anna Richenda for having sent me a copy.

Grade: 4/5

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