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The Illuminator    by Brenda Rickman Vantrease order for
by Brenda Rickman Vantrease
Order:  USA  Can
Griffin, 2005 (2005)
Hardcover, Paperback, Audio, CD

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* * *   Reviewed by Barbara Lingens

Fourteenth-century England in all its ferment comes alive in these pages. A small estate set in a rural area becomes the focal point for the religious, political and social forces tearing at the countryís fabric. The widow Kathryn tries to keep her deceased husbandís lands together for her two young sons amid the demands of church, state and her own serfs. Being an unprotected woman, she cannot possibly withstand those demands.

Into this situation comes an illuminator with his young daughter. Strong, handsome and well-spoken, he is the perfect means by which Kathryn can get some respite from her precarious position. Housing the illuminator and his daughter wins her protection from the church, and his strength helps her to fight off the advances of those who wish to annex her land by marrying her. But the time of peace and shared love is soon shattered by her sons' actions and by what she, ever loyal to them, must do to save her lands.

The religious ferment is well described. We meet John Wycliffe, Julian of Norwich and Bishop Henry Despenser in all their humanity, and we learn much about the corruptness of the Catholic Church at that time. We are also given a glance into the clandestine activities of those who wished to have religious writings in English. This was very dangerous work, and the book makes it very realistic. Altogether, Vantrease has written a very wonderful and thought-provoking first novel, filled with people we care about and well-researched historical detail.

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