The Order of Darkness series – Philippa Gregory

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There are three books in this series so far, Changeling, Stormbringers and Fools’ Gold, and I decided to read them mainly because the third one’s set in Venice during Carnevale. They’re set in 1453/4, and are about five people who end up travelling around Italy together. One of them is a trainee priest, who’s been recruited by a Vatican-run secret order to investigate signs of “the end of days” – this is based, to some extent, on reality, there being a lot of millennial feeling in Europe following the fall of Constantinople. Another is his assistant, a monk, and a third is his friend/servant. The other two are a young noblewoman whose fortune has been stolen by her brother, and her half-Arab friend/companion/servant.

It’s a strange series, partially aimed at “young adults” but perhaps not entirely so. It’s also not based on historical reality, which is rather annoying (well, it is to me!) – the second book revolves around a tidal wave which never actually happened, the third around a currency collapse which never actually happened. However, the author does make it clear in her afterword that they never actually happened, so fair enough. And it is very interesting how she shows how things could be interpreted by the superstitious in a world ignorant of much of the scientific knowledge we have now … until the third book when, as she did in The Wise Woman, she goes off into the world of the supernatural. Not very clearly, either. Two alchemists create a living being – but is it a “homunculus”, or is it a “golem”? It has “Emet” written on its forehead, which, AFAIK, is the sign of a golem, being the Hebrew word for truth, but she doesn’t explain that! And, quite honestly, I thought that the books worked much better without wandering off into the supernatural. I’ve read the three books now, so I daresay I’ll read the fourth when it comes out, but they’re not Philippa Gregory’s best works. She can do and has done a lot better.

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