Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Review: Changeling by Philippa Gregory

In One Line:  Renaissance romance meets scooby doo!
Genre: historical mystery
The Gist:
Luca Vero is the local hot stud, forced to commit to a life of religious servitude (and celibacy!) due to being brought up in a monastry. But Luca is a bad boy, because he’s clever and likes numbers and stuff. After being accused of heresy, instead of being cast out into the renaissance wilderness, he is imployed by the Pope to investigate the rise of Satan across Italy. And his first job? To visit a abbey and find out what’s driving all the nuns cray cray. There he meets Isolde, a woman doomed to imprisonment in the abbey because of the terms of her father’s will and the malevolence of her brother. Is she the one who brought the devil to the nunnery? Or is there a perfectly rational explanation to it all? Zoinks!!!
The Cover:
I’ve actually had to do a little survey over this cover. The general consensus is that it is definitely not embarrassing, and yet, I feel a little cringey about it. I think it’s because I hate having the looks of characters thrust in my face. I like to imagine them and make them up in my head. These two cover models aren’t quite what I’d imagine, plus the blonde girl’s ringlets bother me. She looks a bit too preened for the fifteenth century, and I’m pretty sure they didn’t have hair rollers back then. Also, my friend Adrian says that the cover is missing a pitchfork. I’m inclined to agree with him.
Why You’ll Love This Book
  • Guys! It’s Philippa Gregory!!! She is the reigning queen of Historical Fiction, and I adore her for it. I got so excited when I heard that this book was coming out, because I’ve read every tudor novel Gregory has ever written and LOVED THEM ALL. She manages to paint history in an engaging and emotional way, and when I actually was a Young Adult I lapped all her books up. Except that I was really picky about reading them in historical order, which I’m sure you all understand. 
  • Gregory knows her shizzle. And she doesn’t bombard you with factoids and exposition, which is such a relief, and proves that she is a master of historical writing. She gives you all the information you need to know so that the period references make sense, but you never feel overloaded or patronised.
  • Past dystopias? As you probably already know, the YA market is saturated with dystopian fiction, but what I figured out whilst reading this book is that dystopian dramas don’t have to just be set in the future, they can be set in the past as well. So many of the key issues in this book feature heavily in science fiction, showing that imperfect worlds can exist anywhere. 
  • Feminism! Isolde is a modern gal trapped in the renaissance, which basically means her life sucks. What’s especially uncanny about her position in this book is that she can’t see any way out for herself. Heroines of the modern or future age always manage to kick ass and strike back (a la Katniss) but Isolde is well and truly stuck. She can’t envision a world in which she could possibly be happy, and seeing as this is a historical novel, we know what her outcomes can only be: marriage, nunnery or burned as a witch. The fifteenth century well and truly sucks for women, and Gregory conveys this frustration perfectly. I just wish that Isolde had a chance to do something about it. 
  • Isolde’s best friend Ishraq. She rocks. She reminds me of Kalinda in The Good Wife, but with a long bow. This is a good thing. 

Why You May Not Love This Book:
  • Guys, I have structure issues. Serious structure issues. Because from a narrative point of view, something really weird is going on with this book. After giving it some thought I’m even wondering if this is two novellas stuck together, or a pitch for a renaissance-set TV mystery mini-series (like the X-Files, but with the enlightenment?), because what we have here are two distinct episodes in one book. The major climax of the novel happens exactly half-way through, and then afterwards we get a whole new story, which isn’t nearly as heightened and scary as the first one. I just don’t understand what’s going on here. 
  • There’s lots of talky talk. Gregory’s characters sure like to chat... I think this is a problem of having a third person narrator. Instead of the narrator explaining everything, the characters do it instead, often in lengthy conversations. Luckily Gregory is skilled in dialogue, but sometimes I just wanted the characters to shut up so that we could get back to the action. 
  • About two thirds of the way through this novel I thought about drawing a graph. A graph that would relay the various ups and downs that occur throughout reading Changeling. Because sometimes I was completely on board and racing through, but as soon as a brilliant, fast-paced scene was over, we went to something slow and talky. The result is an oddly patchy reading experience. 

The Hypersomnia Test:
Oh, this is the first book that has properly failed in such a long time. And I blame that purely on the odd pacing of this novel. I’d hit a good patch and race through it, but then I’d hit a dry, talky talky patch and I’d put the book down and not pick it up again for a little bit. And then on my commute, I was more inclined to nap than to read. Sad times. 
Final Verdict:
This book is great fun, and there is huge potential for this to be an exciting series, but I can’t help but feel that Gregory is holding back. It worries me that as a successful ‘adult’ writer, she decided to turn to ‘YA’, because it makes me think that she’s purposely adjusted and reworked her style to fit in with what she ‘thinks’ YA writing should be. I may be totally wrong, in fact I hope I am, but having read her other books I know what the writer is capable of. This book has so much potential, but it doesn’t have the heart and soul that I’m used to finding in Gregory’s other books. It’s overly chaste, it doesn’t explore the politics or issues of the time deeply enough, and some of the dialogue seems deliberately simple. Also I’m not sure how ‘YA’ this book really is. Yes our two main characters are teenagers, but they don’t read as teenagers. There is nothing of the teen experience here. What was it like to be a teenager in renaissance Italy? From reading Changeling, I’m afraid that I just don’t know. 
Further Reading:
The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory
VIII by H.M. Castor
Witch Child by Celia Rees
To buy Changeling please click HERE!!!


  1. So here's the thing. I've seen a couple of reviews for this and I'm sort of tempted to read it because hello, hot boys and magic and your review intrigues me further. On the other hand I have only ever read 1 historical fantasy set in our world before the 18th century that I actually enjoyed. I think this has quite a lot to do with being raised by a Renaissance Art Historian Mother and an Atheist Father and so religion and renaissance in fiction makes me squirm a little. But this suonds so tempting! So as the person who professionally recommends books to me I will have to bug you for the YAY or NAY on this one...

  2. There's no fantasy in it! That's kind of the point - in a world where people believe in werewolves and witches, the mission of our hero is to seek the truth. Hence the scooby doo reference. I don't want to discourage anyone from reading a book, because all books are awesome, but I went into this one with expectations and was a little disappointed.