Book Review: The Passion of Dolssa by Julie Berry

Rating: 4 out of 5.

I came upon this audiobook by mere happenstance at a sale at my local library. 10 discs about a girl mystic hunted down by the friars of a medieval inquisition? Right up my alley. Medieval religious history is something that has always fascinated me as well as learning more about the martyrs of the reformation, so I hoped I had struck gold after reading the back of this new book.

Summary

It is dangerous for women to have visions of God in this age, and Dolssa knows this, but can she really remain silent about a loving God when so many fear the angry God preached from the pulpits? She has had visions of “her Beloved” ever since she could remember and now, she has gained a following. Soon, this following comes to the attention of the priests of Provensa and one priest will stop at nothing to see her burned as a heretic. Fearing for her life, Dolssa flees to a village where she meets a peasant girl named Botille, a local matchmaker, and her sisters, who learn Dolssa’s story and witness the miracles that surround her. Agreeing to hide her, the sisters soon learn who their true friends are and what they are willing to sacrifice for faith and friendship.

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Likes

  • Well-written. The author knew her history about the local culture and customs of the medieval era. I rarely come across books about medieval peasants, just nobility, so this was a breath of fresh air. I’m glad that I listened to this story versus read it, since Berry also used French words in place of other words like “sister”, “father”, “holy woman”, and even “what” or “yes”—to tell the story and I’m sure I would have gotten lost.
  • Non-smutty for a medieval story. It seems that all the stories I find nowadays set in medieval or renaissance times have gratuitous sex and vulgarity. I know that at the time, it was a short life from the cradle to the grave, so sex was a “commonality” among the simple medieval folk but come on…you don’t have to show us, I get it! Okay, rant done. The point is, I’m glad that the author did not focus on this as a main commonality in her story, she instead focused on other cultural aspects, like the vocations, the lifestyle, and the belief system of the common medieval folk of the story.
  • Multiple points of view. Berry put readers in the minds of main as well as side-characters through different processes, like interviews or meeting with the friars as they searched for Dolssa. This was a new way of storytelling that I thought effective, especially since the bulk of the story revolved around religious men interrogating others to find their run-away martyr. The audiobook also uses a variety of voice-actors for each viewpoint, which I think adds to the voice of each character well.
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  • Friendship as a key theme. FINALLY! A story where the main characters don’t fall in love. I was hoping the story between the two main characters would remain platonic (especially given the fact they are both girls and I feared a lesbian relationship would form, since that seems to be a running theme in popular culture nowadays), and luckily, they viewed each other as sisters instead of lovers. Strong friendships are shrinking in literature—everybody wants romance! (Okay, rant #2 done).
  • Author notes. Historical fiction novels always need these in my opinion, since some of the author’s interpretations of history could get confused with real history. This is the author’s way of sort of offering a disclaimer regarding what was researched versus what was not for their novels.

Dislikes

  • The way Dolssa was portrayed. She seemed more like a damsel in distress than I would have liked. Also, I understand that some mystics during this time viewed their relationship with Christ in a romantic kind of way, but that disturbed me, since I always viewed Christ as a brother to humankind…not a husband like nuns and other mystics of the era believed. Consequently, this view of Christ wasn’t too detailed, which I was grateful for; it left things open to interpretation.
  • The ending. There were about three different endings, and I failed to see how they all connected to one another. The first two, I could sort of see the ties, but the last one threw me for a loop and had me asking more questions: Who was the old woman locked in the dungeon? Why was it important that the boy she spoke to deliver her message? Who was the person she was delivering this message to? What did these people have to do with the story we just read?

Overall, I’m happy I now get to add a medieval novel to my list of read books that is a worthwhile read and I recommend it to readers of historical fiction, especially those who enjoy medieval history.

Published by Ashley Weaver

I am a writer, reader, student, and teacher of literature and the English language.

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