I have long been a lover of historical fiction, this is largely due to Philippa Gregory and her knack of bringing historical figures to life. In high school I read The Other Boleyn Girl and then I read it again, and again. In fact (besides Harry Potter, obviously) it may be the only book I’ve ever read multiple times (I have too many books on my “to read” list to waste time re-reading). At one point I even sold it to a secondhand bookstore only to re-buy it less than a month later. Anyway, thanks to that book Philippa Gregory instantly became one of my favorite authors. I own almost all of her novels and I’ve enjoyed each and every one of them. It goes without saying that I was looking forward to this novel (despite it being a teen book with paranormal undertones) and it did not disappoint.
Changeling by Philippa Gregory
I usually avoid teen books (who are we kidding I don’t avoid them anymore) because they’re poorly written with thin characters and even thinner plot lines. While Changeling isn’t nearly as in-depth as Gregory’s adult novels it’s still apparent that she knows her stuff and has done her research. I liked the characters, I enjoyed the plot (even when it seemed to veer into paranormal territory*) and it kept me reading from cover to cover (literally… but that might have had something to do with the fact that I was stuck on a 24-hour car trip at the time).
*To be clear, I have nothing against paranormal genres, in fact I actively seek out books that have some sort of paranormal aspect. However, paranormal teen books usually end up being entirely silly – Changeling was not so.
The novel is set in the 1400’s and switches between the perspectives of Luka, a teenage boy suspected to be a changeling, and Isolde, a beautiful, golden haired Lady. Luka was brought to a monastery when he was only 11 after the disappearance of his parents. While on his way to priesthood it becomes apparent that Luka has a knack for numbers and an insatiable curiosity. He is yanked from his bed one night and dragged across town where he is sure he’ll be sentenced to death for committing heresy. When he finally faces his captor Luka is not only pardoned from his heresy but asked to join a secret order, The Order of Darkness. He is required to travel the country and inquire into Christian fear and signs of “the end of days.” His first assignment sends him to a covenant where the nuns are falling to madness.
Isolde has always lived in the castle with her father and brother. Her father raised her to rule the world; he allowed her to study (when most women were not able), he promised her the castle and all it’s land, and he taught her to lead. After her father’s death Isolde is forced out of the castle by her backstabbing brother and made to join the covenant. Her arrival signifies the beginning of the covenant’s descent into madness.
Luka must solve the mystery of the madness and exorcise any demons that haunt the covenant, even when those demons are not as they appear.
I may be biased but I truly loved this book. I loved the characters, I thought they were very well developed and had distinct personalities. Luka was often frustrating to read – he’s supposed to be so smart and clever but he sometimes can’t see the solution right under his nose – however, he always pulls through and makes the right choice (although his companions sometimes have to help him get there).
Isolde is fiercely obedient – as any Lady of her time would be. Obedient of her father (even after his death), obedient of her brother (despite his evil intentions), and obedient of the vows she was forced to take upon her arrival to the covenant. However she never loses her strong and independent personality. True to Gregory’s style Isolde is a Lady more than capable of taking matters into her own hands.
The side characters are equally as enjoyable. Luka’s companion Freize provides excellent comic relief, he’s always ready with a sarcastic or witty remark. He sees the world through rational and understanding eyes, this, paired with his natural connection to animals, helps the group escape on more than one occasion. Isolde’s friend Ishraq is dark and mysterious but always full of wisdom and displays a loyalty that cannot be challenged. However, none of the characters are entirely trustworthy. They, and the reader, must always be on their toes and watching their backs.
The plot can be compared to an episode of Scooby Doo, “the gang” hears of a strange occurrence and has no choice but to investigate. The spooky paranormal anomalies are rationally explained which kept the story from being silly and retained the historical accuracy. I spent the entire book wondering “who-dun-it” only to be shocked by the reveal. The authors note explains that the novel was based on true historical events – witchcraft, magic, and madness were real fears in the 1400’s and it wasn’t uncommon for people to be plagued by any one of them. As Gregory explains “these were deeply superstitious times. People genuinely believed there was another, unseen world.” I was pleasantly surprised that Changeling did not turn out to be a typical teen paranormal romance but rather a historically accurate (to an extent) psychological thriller.