Changeling – Philippa Gregory

This was an impulse buy. I was on vacation, and in a store where there were a lot of books at really good prices. I had seen this book around before, and decided that I would get it because of the bargain!

I’d wanted to read something of Philippa Gregory for awhile, ever since my friend recommended her to me. I did keep my guard up going into this, knowing that it is her first YA novel and just because she can write adult fiction doesn’t mean she can write YA, and so I am not going to make any judgements on Gregory’s overall writing style based on this book.

What can I say about this book? I wasn’t thrilled with it. It was a fairly short and quick read, but it was still a struggle at times. It felt, to me, like someone zipped through a manuscript without much thought or care because it was YA and not a “real” story. Now, again, I haven’t read anything by Gregory, so I don’t know if this is her writing style, or if it was just careless under-polishing (which may or may not have been on Gregory’s end…that overlooking could have come from someone else like an editor, too).

The story is set in 1453, and revolves around 2 main characters, seventeen-year-old Luca, and seventeen-year-old Isolde. Luca is training to become a priest, but gets kicked out of the monastery after using logic to question the validity of the monastery’s religious artifact. He is instead joined into an order of inquirers, who are sent around to question weird happenings in what they believe to be The End of Days. He sets off with his servant, Frieze, and they go to an abbey, where the nuns have been having weird visions and have been harmed by what they believe is devilish magic.

Isolde is the daughter of a wealthy man, but when he dies, her inheritance is suddenly voided because of her father’s supposed last-minute changes to his will. All of a sudden, she is forced to become an abbess, and her brother gets everything that was supposed to be hers. Along with her servant Ishraq, Isolde goes to the abbey, where she is soon blamed for the strange occurrences there.

This book was interesting in that it is hard to pinpoint its exact genre. I suppose it would be historical fiction, although it’s not really focused on historical events. There is an almost-fantasy feel about it. The group comes up against mysterious, seemingly supernatural events a couple of times in the story. There is no magic in this book, but there are superstitions about it, and discussions of one character having faerie blood. There is also a lot of suspense in this book. There were actually two mysteries. The second one, I figured out right away, but the first I couldn’t guess exactly what was going on, which was nice.

However, there were 2 main problems with this book for me. The first was that, essentially, this was a novella, or should have been. The main story ended with about 100 pages left to go, and then a second, much weaker, plot played out in full to take up space. This is the first of a series, so I was surprised by the strange half-stories of this book. I feel like, being the set-up novel, there should have been a lot more to the main plotline? Like perhaps starting the story earlier would have been great. It would have helped to explain more of what was going on, while also developing the characters, which would have helped with my second problem with this book, which is that…

I didn’t like any of the characters. None of them! There are four main characters, and a fifth sort of main one. Luca is the hero, but at only seventeen, he already believes that men are the masters of women, and that he is a total hot shot because he is in charge of everything. I don’t care if this is the way men would have thought back in the 1400s or not (particularly referring to his views on women here). I just thought it was arrogant and ignorant. Plus, he was always angry. I can’t tell you how many times he said something “irritably” in this book! This would have been fine if his character was supposed to be a jerk. But he’s not. He’s supposed to be, like I said, the hero, and the leader of the group. He’s supposed to be intelligent and, I gathered, sweet, but those traits did not show to me.

Isolde, on the other hand, was an idiot. It was so obvious that her brother was pulling the rug from under her feet, and yet it seemed to take her ages to figure this out. When a drunken man came to her door in the middle of night saying he’d help her if she’d open her bedroom door to him, she believed the guy, and then was all surprised when he tried to rape her. She relied far too heavily on Ishraq for advice, and again I felt like she was supposed to be this strong female character with smarts and know-how. Which again, I didn’t buy.

Ishraq was kind of like the female version of Luca. She was usually annoyed, and hated men. She could also do no wrong, and was brilliant and clever, and yet never once got annoyed with Isolde’s stupidity. Frieze was supposed to be the really likable one of the bunch, but it read to me that he was just…written to be likeable. I didn’t actually form any attachment to him…I just felt like I was supposed to.

This is the first of a series. So perhaps the plot and the characters will develop more as the series continues. For me, however, I think this will likely be the only book of the series I read. I wasn’t too pleased, which is always disappointing. I had high hopes for this one!


  • Donna Hosie

    Oh no. This is really disappointing. I love Gregory and the thought of her publishing YA sent me into spasms!

    I'll give it a go, but YA isn't easy, and I hate it when authors treat it with contempt.

  • Mere Joyce

    I know, I thought she was a good fit for this kind of genre…I thought she might bring a nice level of maturity and writing style to YA that we don't always get to see.

    Let me know how it goes. You never with books…sometimes it's completely different from one person to the next. And sometimes it's the situation that changes…perhaps if I had read it two months from now I would have loved it! =P

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