The Burning Times: A Novel of Medieval France
By Jeanne Kalogridis
Simon & Schuster
Jeanne Kalogridis writes historical fiction that I love. She mixes a little fact with a little fiction and adds a tiny bit of the paranormal. The magical element never feels odd in her stories either and most times when I come across it, I go right along with it. She blends everything so well.
I’ve read several of her books including: The Scarlett Contessa, The Devil’s Queen: A Novel of Catherine de Medici and Covenant with the Vampire. My library does not have a huge back list for her, but I plan to seek out a few of others if I can.
In The Burning Times, we meet Sybille, a poor midwife with pagan ways who is forced into hiding and assumes the name and appearance of Sister Marie Francoise so she can take refuge among the Franciscan sisterhood. She does this to escape the Inquisitors who wish to burn all heretics and those they deem witches. She is eventually caught by the Inquisitors, and during the course of her imprisonment and interview with a young monk, her story unfolds and the powers she holds, she sees the future and can heal the sick, become clear. It’s obvious to the other Inquisitors that she’s clearly a witch and should be burned but the young Monk Michael wants to hear her story not thoroughly convinced that she is what they all say.
The story is told through this interview and even if you think you know how it will end, the way in which the story is told keeps you interested. Sybille won’t be rushed, knowing this will be her last chance to tell her story and that of her people. There are others in the world with her powers and abilities and she wants the church to know that killing her will not end what they consider to be a scourge of heresy.
There’s an interesting mythology to this book that is more than just witchcraft. The pagan ideals of worship and belief in something higher added an interesting new level that ran against the stalwart beliefs of the church. The historical elements — the Black Plague, the Hundred Years’ War, and the war between England and France — provided a nice background for the story to play out.
I love going back to read earlier works of an author I like. While the writing quality of this particular book doesn’t compare to the book released this year, The Scarlett Contessa which I thought had a much better flow and felt much more cohesive, I like to go back and see how a writer evolved. Don’t get me wrong, this is still a good book, but I can see how Kalogridis’s writing has changed over the years and I know that she will be an author whose work I continue to enjoy in the coming years.