Friday, 9 March 2012

Pope Joan

Pope Joan
For a thousand years her existence has been denied. She is the legend that will not die–Pope Joan, the ninth-century woman who disguised herself as a man and rose to become the only female ever to sit on the throne of St. Peter. Now in this riveting novel, Donna Woolfolk Cross paints a sweeping portrait of an unforgettable heroine who struggles against restrictions her soul cannot accept.

Brilliant and talented, young Joan rebels against medieval social strictures forbidding women to learn. When her brother is brutally killed during a Viking attack, Joan takes up his cloak–and his identity–and enters the monastery of Fulda. As Brother John Anglicus, Joan distinguishes herself as a great scholar and healer. 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 office in Christendom–wielding a power greater than any woman before or since. But such power always comes at a price . . .

In this international bestseller, Cross brings the Dark Ages to life in all their brutal splendor and shares the dramatic story of a woman whose strength of vision led her to defy the social restrictions of her day.

I've been busy with work lately - a lot of writing, seeing how I'm a grant writer and March is a heavy month for applications - so I didn't have a chance to update as much as I would have liked. Let's hope that I can remember everything about the book that I want to review, considering that I've got 2.5 more books under my belt since then.

I finished Pope Joan earlier this week - a legendary figure that I've always wanted to learn more about. Sure, the story itself is fictional, but some characters, the time frame and the environment is historically accurate to a point.
First off - I don't understand how anyone could have believed the entire novel to be true, because there are just too many coincidental incidents where Joan is saved from discovery. Though one could argue that "Well, faith could have led to such miracles," it's still a little to pat and dried for me. Of course, you know that she wasn't discovered earlier on - else how could there be such a climatic ending - but who knew that her earlier life was just so 'miraculous'? Even Saints have some bad days...

Therefore, I took it as it was meant to be - a fictional story about her life - and once I got over that stump, I thoroughly enjoyed it! It was well written, entertaining, and insightful. Especially the first part, with how she came to learn to read and write, how she got interested in reasoning and philosophy, and how she eventually slipped into her brother's identity before her ascent into greatness.

The second part that I enjoyed the most was the growing love story between her and Gerold. It's like Romeo and Juliet, in a sense, (one of my all time favorite Shakespeare tales) and therefore, I found the ending rather fitting. I won't spoil anything for you, but if you've even heard a hint of the myth/legend at all, you know that Joan's 'miracles' eventually ran out. Most historical stories dealing with women in any era usually have an unhappy ending...

But overall, the thing I loved the most was the idea of a woman overachieving in a man's world. Like Joan of Arc, the fact that a girl could arise to such greatness in such a time of abject anti-feminism is,well - not to be a hypocrite - but I guess it is quite miraculous after all. Maybe there was something to all of those coincidences, but then I remember the ending and go, "Oh sure, now god leaves her hanging."

Goodreads gives it a 4.03 rating out of five, but because I didn't fall into the whole "is this true or not" puddle, I went ahead and gave it a full five for the story alone.If you're interesting in historical fiction with a bit of 'fact' tossed in for flavor, and enjoy contemplating the idea of a woman in a man's world, then I strongly recommend that you give this a try.

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