Written by: Julie Berry
Published: April 12, 2016 by Viking Books for Young Readers (Penguin Group)
Synopsis: Dolssa is a young gentlewoman with uncanny gifts, on the run from an obsessed friar determined to burn her as a heretic for the passion she refuses to tame.
Botille is a wily and charismatic peasant, a matchmaker running a tavern with her two sisters in a tiny seaside town.
The year is 1241; the place, Provensa, what we now call Provence, France—a land still reeling from the bloody crusades waged there by the Catholic Church and its northern French armies.
When the matchmaker finds the mystic near death by a riverside, Botille takes Dolssa in and discovers the girl’s extraordinary healing power. But as the vengeful Friar Lucien hunts down his heretic, the two girls find themselves putting an entire village at the mercy of murderers.
The Passion of Dolssa has been on my list since before it came out. I read a lot of historical fiction and I am looking for books that have unique settings and stories and this absolutely fit the build. I tried to read it a few times but after those false starts I was nervous about reading it this month. But my themes is historical France so I took the time and I am glad that I did. It is not my typical read but very interesting.
This book is beautifully written. I listened to the audiobook and I am surprised by how much it pulled me in. The writing had the kind of prose that translates so well to the audio format. I do think it did have a bit of a slow start. As I said before, I tried reading it a few times and it took me until now until I finally finished it. I think it is just one of those slower books that you have to take your time with. It did built to an exciting conclusion that had me so concerned about what was going to happen, it just took it's time to hook me. Although when it did, it didn't let me go.
One of the things that surprised me most about this book is how it combined history and religion. I usually don't read a lot of books with religious content, although it is something I enjoy in high fantasy. But I feel like this book did a really good job of handling the religion. This was a period of time with a lot of religious unrest, especially with the Catholic Church, between the Crusades and the Inquisition. This book did not shy away from these more unsavory activities of the church, but it also didn't portray the church as all bad. There was a lot of grey areas when it came to not only organized religion itself but the people who practiced it. I appreciated that from both a narrative perspective and real life perspective. It made you think and that is all you can really ask for with any book, especially a historical fiction novel.
However, I would have appreciated this book to have established the physical setting. This is really important to me in historical fiction. This is one of those books where it felt like it could have happened anywhere. It could have been any place in Medieval Europe. This might not be that be an issue for many readers but for me I was missing something. I have been to Provence, it's a beautiful place and has a rich history especially in reference to religion and the Catholic Church. But for me the setting didn't really come alive and I had hoped it would.
One thing I did love however is the characters. The author did a really good job in making the reader connect with the characters, especially the women. While Dolssa is the titular character, it is Botille who is really the one who moves the plot along. In the beginning I thought I would be more interested in Dolssa's perspectives but very quickly I found that I enjoyed Botille. She is kind and caring, but also smart and resourceful. She's one of those women who is slightly ahead of her time and therefore is in a kind of precarious position. All of this made me like her and root for her. Dolssa is the character who is easy to root for, however. She is the one who is taken advantage of by society because of her position as a woman. We are not in her head as much as I expected but the times we did gave her a lot of depth. Being in Lucien's head also gave his character depth. He wasn't a totally terrible antagonist which can often happen in these kinds of stories. Now don't get me wrong, he was vile and loathsome but he felt more like of those people who is completely misguided in that he thinks he is in the right, and that made him a much more engaging character.
All in all, The Passion of Dolssa was a complex and engaging read that made me think. It's a good historical fiction novel that handled religion in a really great way and complex characters that I connected with more than I would expect.
I give The Passion of Dolssa by Julie Berry 8 out of 10 stars
Buy/Borrow/Bypass: Borrow. If you haven't read this book and you are looking for a unique historical fiction novel then check this book out. What I am curious about is what people who are more religious think about it.
Have you read The Passion of Dolssa? What did you think? Leave me a comment with your thoughts. Thanks for stopping by and HAPPY READING!