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The Witch of Cologne    by Tobsha Learner order for
Witch of Cologne
by Tobsha Learner
Order:  USA  Can
Tor, 2007 (2003)
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* * *   Reviewed by Barbara Lingens

Set in 17th-century Germany, this exquisitely detailed story provides a very satisfactory historical fiction experience. Ruth, a Jewish midwife who refuses to bend to her father's and society's will, has the intelligence to understand and become part of those who are furthering scientia nova (new science). Pursued by a malevolent, driven Spanish inquisitor, she manages always just to elude him.

In Cologne, traditionally Catholic, the Protestant movement has not ceased to gather momentum, despite the end of the Thirty Years War. Emperor Leopold, ruling out of Vienna, must continually reassure himself that the German nobility remains loyal and Catholic. In Holland, a more secular atmosphere provides a refuge for philosophers and scientists for some years.

In this cauldron of political-religious movement and counter-movement is yet another powerful but yet powerless group, the Jews. Barely tolerated, they are made to live on the outskirts of the city, on the Protestant side of the Rhine. When the inquisitor arrests Ruth, a canon of the church is asked to head the court proceedings. As he learns to know the young woman, he realizes not only that her knowledge of scientia nova trumps his own, but also that she is a truly independent spirit. His interest in her saves her and forever changes both their lives.

Readers interested in this period will be well rewarded by this tale, despite the lurid cover that was on my copy.

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