Book Review: The Passion of Dolssa by Julie Berry
Number of Pages: 478
Date Published: April 12, 2016
Publisher: Viking Books for Young Readers
Rating: 5/5 stars
Dolssa is a young gentlewoman with uncanny gifts, on the run from an obsessed friar determined to burn her as a heretic for the passion she refuses to tame.
Botille is a wily and charismatic peasant, a matchmaker running a tavern with her two sisters in a tiny seaside town.
The year is 1241; the place, Provensa, what we now call Provence, France—a land still reeling from the bloody crusades waged there by the Catholic Church and its northern French armies.
When the matchmaker finds the mystic near death by a riverside, Botille takes Dolssa in and discovers the girl’s extraordinary healing power. But as the vengeful Friar Lucien hunts down his heretic, the two girls find themselves putting an entire village at the mercy of murderers.
“Hey ho, hey hum, see the churchmen come. And whom shall they slaughter today?”
“Take the babe, take your wife, and run for your life from the men who love to pray.”
Not a lot of readers would pick this book out of a pile of other YA books; that’s for sure, but I’m glad I did, because the Passion of Dolssa is both a wonderful and terrifying read. Don’t let the religious undertone put you off. I swear, this book is so much more than what people imagine it to be.
The story is set in the 12th century during a time when the Catholic church and its newly formed orders are dead set on eliminating heretics – people who “practice unorthodox, unsanctioned religious ideas” – as well as any other circumstance that presents itself as a tremendous (almost always viewed negatively) influence on the people’s faith.
This book tells the tale of Dolssa, a woman who is known to have formed a bond with her beloved. She, like all the other mystics known from that period, is recognized to have experienced the presence of her beloved through visions. She is seen performing miracles and preaching about her beloved’s goodness.
Dolssa’s belief is viewed by the church as something that contradicts their faith and should thus be obliterated; hence, as the story goes on, we see Dolssa being pursued by various members of the clergy.
I’ve read mixed reviews about this book. Others have found 400+ pages to be a tad bit too long, but I am one of those who found it fitting and unexpectedly engaging. I confess, many times I’ve actually struggled with putting it down.
I loved the writing style, especially the accounts that picture people as they are interviewed. It’s as if I could hear the person right in the moment, desperately trying to defend himself. Imagine those character guides in mystery case files/big fish games, if any of you have actually played those.
I enjoyed reading about the gradual coming together of the characters’ lives. The relationship between Dolssa and Botille, Botille and her sisters, as well as Botille and the rest of the people in Bajas, can be examined in a myriad of ways, and I’m one of those who delight in thinking about these things over and over. Oh and one other thing – I’ve always considered the influence of the church on the people during this period to be too mortifying, and reading this book made that assumption come to life. I’ll have you know; it gave me goosebumps.
“For most violently and with premeditated and murderous intent assaulting a man of God, the friar Lucien de Saint-Honore of the Order of Preachers, in a vile and cowardly manner, lying in wait, attacking him unawares, entirely unprovoked, I sentence you to forty lashes.”
“And, to teach you to remember to honor the Savior’s church, I sentence you to branding by hot irons on the forehead with the mark of the cross.”
The story kept me on the edge of my seat, something that I consider a feat for a historical novel. I found myself turning pages until the verdict came, and I was dumbfounded. I actually needed help in understanding that ending (cries). Thankfully, Julie Berry wrote an explanation for us readers who need a little push in putting the pieces together. You can find it here.
I don’t know how to market this book well enough. All I know is that I want a lot more people to get a hold of its story. This is the first time I’m a hundred percent certain in recommending a historical fiction novel to just about anybody (last time this happened was after I read the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society), so I’m really hoping this review would be good enough to convince you guys to read it.
If you’re still not convinced, this is the last thing I could tell you without actually spoiling anything. That damn ending still haunts me today. I think I’m going to remember it for a long, long time.
Note: I did rate this book a 4.5/5 at first, but after being enlightened by Julie’s post, I’m pretty sure it deserves a 5.