Published by Penguin Young Readers Group on April 12th 2016
Genres: Historical Fiction, Young Adult
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I must write this account, and when I have finished, I will burn it. Buried deep within the archives of a convent in medieval France is an untold story of love, loss, and wonder and the two girls at the heart of it all. Dolssa is an upper-crust city girl with a secret lover and an uncanny gift. Branded a heretic, she's on the run from the friar who condemned her mother to death by fire, and wants Dolssa executed, too. Botille is a matchmaker and a tavern-keeper, struggling to keep herself and her sisters on the right side of the law in their seaside town of Bajas. When their lives collide by a dark riverside, Botille rescues a dying Dolssa and conceals her in the tavern, where an unlikely friendship blooms. Aided by her sisters and Symo, her surly but loyal neighbor, Botille nurses Dolssa back to health and hides her from her pursuers. But all of Botille's tricks, tales, and cleverness can't protect them forever, and when the full wrath of the Church bears down upon Bajas, Dolssa's passion and Botille's good intentions could destroy the entire village.
The pure song of a nightingale, a rossinhol, rang across the water, ending in a trill. It was an hour for sprites and fairies. What magic might lurk among the riverbank grasses? Anything was possible just before dawn.
Either it’s been a really long time since I was this completely immersed in a story, or The Passion of Dolssa just managed to make me forget all others. Because I found this book engaging, infuriating, frightening and magical. It took over my life for a little while.
It’s the kind of book I had to make time for – I would hold it in one hand as I made tea or brushed my teeth because I simply couldn’t put it down; I needed to know what happened next.
The writing is exquisite, painting the thirteenth-century French and Spanish countryside with brilliant description. And, into this time of mystical beliefs and holy witch hunts, come richly-drawn characters.
Dolssa and Botille are the main characters and they burst off the page, but Berry makes every single character that walks through this novel interesting. Nobody is a wasted, throwaway addition; everyone is treated as a complex human being, creating a story full of life and emotion, sadness and humour, love and hate.
Oh, and despite how the title sounds, this is not a romance at all. On the contrary, it is a gritty, medieval tale about a young woman accused of heresy and all the people who get pulled into her story when she escapes from her own execution. Her journey is a truly heart-pounding one and I felt constantly on the edge of my seat.
It’s a book that is somehow gentle and character-driven, at the same time as being compelling, awful and fast-paced. Perhaps it is because you care so much about all the characters that their fates never stop being important. You’re constantly afraid of what dangers lurk around every corner.
Not only are the characters memorable in themselves, but their relationships with one another are built up gradually, allowing the reader to become deeply invested in the relationship between mothers and daughters, sisters, and friends. What was strikingly noticeable while reading this book, was the extent to which we were made to care about every character, no matter how central they were to the story. There was not a single character’s death (even that random person who is barely mentioned) that didn’t affect me emotionally, and that’s a really rare thing.
Julie Berry knew exactly how to make me care about her characters, and exactly how to draw me in and keep me hooked.
Some books are beautifully-written, finely-crafted and deserving of literary awards. Some books are fast-paced and exciting, making the pages fly by. The Passion of Dolssa, though, is both.