Friday, December 15, 2017

The Passion of Dolssa - Julie Berry

Summary: Dolssa is a young gentlewoman with uncanny gifts, on the run from an obsessed friar determined to burn her as a heretic for the passion she refuses to tame.

Botille is a wily and charismatic peasant, a matchmaker running a tavern with her two sisters in a tiny seaside town.

The year is 1241; the place, Provensa, what we now call Provence, France—a land still reeling from the bloody crusades waged there by the Catholic Church and its northern French armies.

When the matchmaker finds the mystic near death by a riverside, Botille takes Dolssa in and discovers the girl’s extraordinary healing power. But as the vengeful Friar Lucien hunts down his heretic, the two girls find themselves putting an entire village at the mercy of murderers. (Summary and pic from goodreads.com)

My Review: I chose this book for my book club in kind of a blind draw. The way our library book club sets work is that they have the longest list ever, and then there’s a somewhat confusing calendar on another page, and then you’re somehow supposed to figure out which books are available that you actually want by toggling through the two of them, trying to match up what you want verses what’s available. If this doesn’t sound complicated then I haven’t done it justice. I’ll often just start by trying to see what’s available and then decide if the book is something I want to choose, which is what I did this time. See, my book club is full of women near and dear to my heart, some of my best friends that I have had these ten years living here in this neighborhood. It started as part of a church group, though, and although we’re no longer that,  many of them are quite conservative and very conservative readers, so it’s not like choosing Fifty Shades of Gray is an option. At all. Not that I would ever read that trash. But also—I just want to be careful. I don’t want to be that person who picked the book with all the raunchy scenes and unnecessary language. It’s not like they’re prudes, they understand that sometimes books have some language, but it’s an audience where I want to choose a good book for them that is on the clean side. (Any suggestions would be much appreciated! Leave them in the comments!) Our book club has been going for more than ten years now so you can imagine that we’ve covered quite a few books. Much of the low hanging fruit has been picked.

When I came to The Passion of Dolssa on my toggle fest for the perfect book club book, I was happy that it was already on my “To-read” list. That makes things easier. From there I do lots of info gathering and reading other reviews and Wikipedia, etc., to make sure that I know what I’m getting us all into. Not only do I not want to have a book that would make people uncomfortable, but I also REALLY don’t want to waste people’s time (including my own). Most of the women are gracious enough to read the book, and even if they don’t read the whole thing, most of the time they’ve read at least some and can talk about it. Having a really stupid book is just a waste of everyone’s time and makes for a lame discussion.

I am happy to report that I am very happy with my decision for this book. I think it has a lot of great attributes that make it an excellent book club book:
1.      It’s well-written. Sucky writing, no matter how good the story, just sucks. This writing was beautiful and although it was written for a YA Fic audience, it didn’t feel dumbed down or trite like I think some books in this genre teeter on the edge of.
2.      The story was very interesting. It was in-depth and featured many well-developed characters. Although the book is long, it is still a relatively quick read and I didn’t have anyone complain about the length (which will happen if a book happens to be too long to read in a month for some people’s liking). The story was engaging and even had some surprises and twists in it, which was nice.
3.      The book had a hint of magic, but not too much to turn off those people who are really against fantasy. In fact, it was up to the reader to decide whether it was magical realism, magic, or something entirely religious. This made for some great discussion in my book club, especially considering our religious background.
4.      Which brings me to an essential…this made for some great discussion in our book club. We talked longer about this book than we have any other book in a long time. I had a list of questions that I had gathered from various places, but there was also just a lot of discussion and hashing out details. Part of this is, admittedly, because we are an LDS (Latter-day Saint i.e. Mormon) book club (in the sense that we are all LDS, not that we only read LDS literature), and so these types of religious happenings were a very interesting topic for us to delve into. If you are LDS you’ll know what I mean when you read this book—there’s a lot to discuss.
5.      The female characters are really cool. There are some great male characters, too, don’t get me wrong, but this book is based on real-life female mystics that lived during the Middle Ages. The author had done a lot of research into the original journals and first person accounts of miracles that were performed and what happened. I love me some historical fiction, but it’s so fun when it’s based on true historical facts and real people.

I really enjoyed this book. I had planned on reading it myself sometime, but I am so glad that I read it in a book club so that I had other people to discuss it with. I have, in fact, recommended it to other people as well in the hopes that we can discuss it. As a religious person I just found it really fascinating, and also engaging and well-written. I highly recommend it.

My Rating: 4.5 Stars

For the sensitive reader: There are some minor incidents of language and acknowledgment of sex (and in the afterward there is some discussion of how the female mystics would write about their devotion in an almost sexual manner, although this was never discussed). I was fine reading this book in my book club.

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