This intricate and intriguing novel about Pope Joan was published in hardcover in 1996, and then in paperback in 2005. So it clearly took a while to catch on. The author details in the Author?s Note the efforts the Vatican took to eradicate Joan from memory and from the historical record. And yet, even in my girlhood in Catholic schools, I heard repeatedly about Pope Joan. We all knew we weren?t supposed to believe it, and so we tried hard not to ? and yet it hung on. And as I look back now, as I look back to those 1940s and 50s ? I can feel the hope and the power that belief gave us.
Since little is known beyond a few dates about Pope Joan ? or John Anglicus, as she was called, this is indeed a novel, but one grounded in 9th century Europe in the darkest part of the Dark Ages, and follows the trail of dates and events Joan is mentioned as having been involved with. As a writer myself, I have felt writing take on its own life ? perhaps being channelled. And I wouldn?t be surprised if something similar didn?t happen with this book. The author is so imbued with her character and with her knowledge of that time and place that such a passing of information and ideas would be fairly simple. So I have no problem believing that it is likely all or almost all true.
If not, it is still a great and sweeping tale, with an incredible story of strong and beautiful love, any number of bad guys, some in the Church and some few not, and much historical detail and description.
This is exceptionally fine writing, and would have made a great romance novel, were it not for all the blood and fighting. The Catholic Church?s politics and utter need for control is fully on display, the same today as it was 12 centuries ago ? and is definitely an important part of this story.
But whether you read this book for the romance or the religion ? it is very much worth reading.