Brilliant and talented, young Joan rebels against the medieval social strictures forbidding women to learn to read and write. When her older brother is killed during a Viking attack, Joan takes up his cloak and identity, goes to the monastery of Fulda, and is initiated into the brotherhood in his place. As Brother John Anglicus, Joan distinguishes herself as a great Christian scholar. Eventually she is drawn to Rome, where she becomes enmeshed in a dangerous web of love, passion, and politics.
Triumphing over appalling odds, she finally attains the highest throne in Christendom. Pope Joan is a sweeping historical drama set against the turbulent events of the ninth century - the Saracen sacking of St. Peter's; the famous fire in the Borgo that destroyed over three quarters of the Vatican; and the Battle of Fontenoy, arguably the bloodiest and most terrible of medieval conflicts. The novel is a fascinating, vivid record of what life was really like during the so-called Dark Ages, a masterwork of suspense and passion that has as its center an unforgettable woman, reminiscent of Dorothea in George Eliot's Middlemarch, Jane Austen's Emma, and other heroines who struggle against restrictions their souls will not accept.
From Chapter 1
Thunder sounded, very near, and the child woke. She moved in the bed, seeking the warmth and comfort of her older brothers' sleeping forms. Then she remembered. Her brothers were gone.
It was raining, a hard spring downpour that filled the night air with the sweet-sour smell of newly plowed earth. Rain thudded on the roof of the canon's cottage, but the thickly woven thatching kept the room dry, except for one or two small places in the corners where water first pooled and then trickled in slow fat drops to the beaten earth floor.
The wind rose, and a nearby oak began to tap an uneven rhythm on the cottage walls. The shadow of its branches spilled into the room. The child watched, transfixed, as the monstrous dark fingers wriggled at the edges of the bed. They reached out for her, beckoning, and she shrank back.
Mama, she thought. She opened her mouth to call out, then stopped. If she made a sound, the menacing hand would pounce. She lay frozen, watching, ...
If you liked Pope Joan, try these:
The sequel to Hilary Mantel's 2009 Man Booker Prize winner and New York Times bestseller, Wolf Hall, delves into the heart of Tudor history with the downfall of Anne Boleyn.
Skillfully interweaving historical fact with psychological insight and vivid imagination, Sharratt's redemptive novel, Illuminations, brings to life one of the most extraordinary women of the Middle Ages: Hildegard von Bingen, Benedictine abbess, visionary, and polymath.
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