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Thursday, February 9, 2012

The Mercy Seller by Brenda Rickman Vantrease

Title: The Mercy Seller 
Author: Brenda Rickman Vantrease
ISBN:   9780312331931
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Release Date:  March 6, 2007
Pages:  419
Format: Hardcover 
How I Read It: Borrowed from Library 
Rating: 3.5 Crowns

Synopsis (from Amazon): In the fifteenth century, with religious intolerance spreading like wildfire across Europe, Englishwoman Anna Bookman and her grandfather, Finn, earn a living in Prague by illuminating precious books---including forbidden translations of the Bible. As their secret trade grows ever more hazardous, Finn urges Anna to seek sanctuary in England. Her passage abroad, however, will be anything but easy.

Meanwhile, a priest in London, Brother Gabriel, dutifully obeys church doctrine by granting pardons . . . for a small fee. But when he is sent to France in disguise to find the source of the banned manuscripts finding their way to England, he meets Anna, who has set up a temporary stall as a bookseller. She has no way of knowing that the rich merchant frequenting her stall is actually a priest---just as he does not know that he has met the woman for whom he will renounce his church. It is only in England, which is far from the safe harbor once imagined, that their dangerous secrets will be revealed.

My Thoughts: This book is one I picked up from the library not realizing it was the sequel to Vantrease's book The Illuminator which I had not read.  Luckily this one stood up just fine on it's own and I didn't feel like I was missing anything vitally important by not reading The Illuminator first.  The Mercy Seller follows Anna Bookman who is the granddaughter of celebrated book Illuminator Finn.  Religious unrest strikes her previously peaceful village in Prague with the persecutions of the Lollard Priests and followers (those who believe people should be allowed to read the Bible in any language and not just Latin).  Closely tied to the movement are Anna's love Martin and her grandfather.  Anna soon realizes that she may not be safe from the scrutiny of the Church as she had previously thought and sets out on a journey to England to seek the safety of the house of Sir John Oldcastle at the behest of her grandfather.  Anna makes the arduous journey but upon arriving in England she realizes that she may not be safe even there.  Complicating matters is a mysterious merchant who captures Anna's heart and abruptly disappears.

It took me a little bit to get into this one but I loved learning about this period in history because I haven't read much about it before.  I don't believe I've read anything previously set in the reign of Henry V and I hadn't even heard of the Lollards before I picked up this book and it was sad to read of the lengths the Church would go to keep the Bible out of the hands of commoners because they feared what such "ignorant folk" would do with the information.  Mercy Seller contains a colorful cast of characters including the band of gypsies Anna makes her journey with and the liberal minded Sir John and his wife.  This story also had a few surprises I wasn't expecting and a wonderful love story as well.  Despite a few slow  spots here and there, the characters in this book really make it worthwhile. I especially enjoyed Anna who rises to the occasion despite the increasingly insurmountable odds she faces throughout the novel. While I would have liked to read The Illuminator first, the author does a great job of painting a picture of this tumultuous time in history and I'm glad I picked this one up.

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penney said...

This sounds good thank you for the review!

Heather R said...

I didn't know this was a follow up to the Illuminator either - I have that one on my shelf. I love that they are set in a time period I haven't read much at all on and on a unique subject.