I was in danger of going through a reading drought. It felt as if I wasn’t able to finish anything I started, and it felt as if I wasn’t able to read as much as I wanted to! however finally! I managed to get one done! I also noticed, when I recieved this book, I was surprised to see that I got this cover then the ones I’ve seen around book blogs. At first I actually thought the library gave me the wrong book but, I was wrong it’s just another edition. Update: The wonderful staff at Random House has informed me, that it’s the UK version I have for the book, the one on the right, is the version you probably see in bookstores if you live in North America.
Pope Joan by Donna Woolfolk Cross covers the legend of Johanna, or “Joan” as she was known, who poses as a man to be able to attend the schola (school) in order to learn more. At this time during the Dark Ages, women weren’t even allowed to go to school or even learn how to read (somehow, it was a very bad dangerous thing). Thanks to her older brother Matthew, Joan discovered a thirst and joy of learning to read and write, and to exchange theories and reason with other learned men. Eventually all this learning leads her to become the local physician at an abbey and from there, she’s in for an extraordinary adventure.
Joan is portrayed as a very strong and stubborn character. However because of her stubbornness it takes her farther ahead than any woman could have done during those times, and for that, I think it’s a very admirable trait in her. It’s because of this, she was able to overcome anything to do what she wanted to do the most; which was to learn. This is one of the most strongest female characters I have ever read so far and although she does have faults, she quickly overcomes them and does not relent. Even when she’s tempted to leave with Gerold (her romance interest) she still remains steadfast to her duties to the the people in Rome. Although I found it frustrating at times, especially when things start to take a turn for the worst, it’s still an admirable trait in the face of adversity.
It’s hard to feel any sympathy for any male characters in this novel. Although Gerold might be different but not as much as it all comes to the bottom line: the men in this novel prefer the women pregnant, barefoot, and in the kitchen. Their ignorance is so blatant you wanted to grind your teeth to stop yourself from wanting to jump in to wring their necks for thinking that way about women. However, it’s a very realistic account, for I have no doubt that’s how they thought that way (unfortunately some still do to this day).
The plot in this book flowed perfectly and had it’s good amount of climaxes and action. I was immediately sucked into the story from the beginning. I really did enjoy reading the parts on how Joan went through her journey to eventually becoming Pope. It was indeed a very nice story to read and I’d have to say it was like watching a very exciting adventure because you were always in fear of what would happen if she were to be discovered a woman. I really liked the inner politics within the Papal ranks. They’re twice as devious and conniving than the royal courts I’ve read in previous books. The writing in this book is historically accurate in my opinion, as it gives you a good look and feel as to how it felt like to live back then in this time period.
The only criticism I have is there are a lot of latin religious terminology (especially areas of the religious buildings and ranks of the papacy in Rome) which were hard to get through. I found myself looking a lot of the words up as to what this certain word referred to, and as to what was this rank in the papacy. A glossary would have helped as I had no prior knowledge in this aspect in history. The Author’s Note however, was indeed informative and a very interesting read.
Overall a great novel about a strong woman who faced the odds to do what she loved to do: read and learn. I recommend this book, it’s a wonderful read. You may even be tempted to read some background information on Pope Joan as I did (I went straight for Wikipedia the moment I finished the book)
I give it an 8 out of 10.