Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Review: Changeling by Philippa Gregory

Changeling (Order of Darkness #1)
By Philippa Gregory
Simon Pulse

To Sum It Up: In fifteenth century Italy, Luca Vero has just been expelled from St. Xavier’s Monastery after being accused of heresy. Now he is being recruited to join a mysterious order that investigates strange happenings all over Europe that may be signs of the end of the world. One of Luca’s missions brings him to a nunnery where seventeen-year-old Isolde, the rightful heiress to her father’s castle, has been forced to live by her greedy brother. The nuns’ recent bizarre behavior leads to accusations of witchcraft against Isolde, and Luca has to uncover the truth of the matter. The last thing that he expects is to add two ladies to his traveling party, but that is exactly what happens when Isolde and her devoted friend, Ishraq, join Luca and the rest of his group as they continue their journey to explore mysteries across Europe.

Review: I had been looking forward to reading this because it’s YA historical fiction, which for me is a match made in heaven. Philippa Gregory is of course renowned for her adult historical fiction novels, so I was quite curious to check out her foray into YA. The book’s synopsis makes Changeling sound like an exciting, action-packed novel, with the promise of “werewolves, alchemists, witches, and death-dancers.” Unfortunately, the book fell short of my expectations with its mostly flat plot and characters.

Changeling starts off promisingly enough, with Luca having just been kicked out of his monastery for heresy. At this point I’m thinking, oooh, we have a rebel on our hands! I eagerly read on as Luca met the shady mystery man who’s with the equally enigmatic order that has extended its membership to Luca. I should have known right away from the vague description of Luca’s mission that this book was going to be nowhere near as exciting as the synopsis made it seem. Luca’s task is to map the fears that prevail in Christendom, or something along those lines; regrettably, I didn’t write down the exact phrase that was used. In the end, though, his adventures were less than extraordinary.

My original assumptions about Luca’s character were off base. Aside from being booted from St. Xavier’s, he’s not a very engaging protagonist. We just read about him travelling around with his friend/sidekick, Freize, the kitchen boy from the monastery and the book’s comic relief, and Brother Peter, a cleric and the requisite stick-in-the-mud. Seriously, the highlight of Brother Peter’s day must be breaking in a new quill to write with. At least I have some observations to make on Freize and Brother Peter’s personalities. I can’t really do the same for Luca because I’m still trying to figure out what his personality was supposed to be like.

The book’s female protagonist, Isolde, doesn’t fare much better in terms of character development. Once again, the main character is outshone by a secondary one, in this case, Isolde’s dearest friend, Ishraq. Ishraq has been trained in medicine and fighting and is pretty kick-ass. I didn’t have any particular problems with Isolde; she just didn’t stand out.

What disappointed me the most was how the paranormal elements seemed tacked on to the story. The title is a reference to faery changelings, and there’s some talk at the beginning of the novel about Luca possibly being one. Then the subject is never broached again. There’s also a werewolf encounter that just feels contrived. Perhaps the paranormal aspects will be a bit more fine-tuned in the next book.

I know that I’ve listed a lot of gripes about Changeling, but it still gets 2.5 stars because Gregory’s writing itself is solid. I still plan on reading the two adult novels of hers that I bought but still haven’t read. Maybe if Changeling had been a regular historical fiction novel, I might have enjoyed it more.

All in All: Originally I was going to buy Changeling because I really wanted to read it, but I’m so glad that I remained patient and instead waited for the library to acquire a copy. Philippa Gregory fans and/or fans of books set in the Middle Ages might want to give this one a shot, but neither the characters nor the story line grabbed my attention enough to make me feel compelled to continue reading the series.


  1. Too bad I usually like her books! Sad to hear it was disappointing!

    1. I had really high hopes for this because her adult novels are so popular, but I just couldn't get into Changeling.


We love hearing from our readers and do our best to reply. Thank you for taking the time to leave a comment!