Female scribe finds heretical love in Vantrease’s engrossing follow-up to The Illuminator (2005).
In early-15th-century Prague, Anna, granddaughter of Finn the Illuminator, copies, translates and draws ornate designs on manuscripts. She and a small band of students are under suspected of copying heretical texts, among them the Wycliffe, or Lollard Bible. This vernacular text is banned by Rome because it allows the Latin-illiterate laity to read the Gospels, in which they will find no scriptural basis for Purgatory or indulgences. When Anna’s fiancé is executed for burning indulgences, her dying grandfather urges her to seek out Sir John Oldcastle, a Lollard sympathizer, in England. Anna reaches France with a band of Gypsies, one of whom pulled her from the river after a suicide attempt. In Rheims, she encounters cloth merchant VanCleve, who is actually a Dominican friar, and a sometime indulgence-seller named Gabriel. A spy sent to France by Archbishop Arundel of Canterbury to look for Lollards, Gabriel commissions a forbidden text from Anna, but his mission is impeded by his growing attraction to her. After forsaking Gabriel’s vow of chastity, “VanCleve” departs. Anna travels to England, where she is taken in by Oldcastle and Lady Joan, his lusty wife. Now pregnant, Anna finds work at Rochester Priory, where Lollard nuns are busy transcribing what they shouldn’t. Their Abbess, Mother Kathryn, turns out to be Anna’s grandmother. Will Gabriel discover the secret of his birth and its curious parallels to his current dilemma? Will he meet Anna again and defrock them both?
Readers will agree that answers, and the Reformation, can’t come soon enough.