Set in 799 Wurzburg, a time when the country was plagued by famine, most people went uneducated and parchment was laboriously made by hand. Her father Gorgias, an educated man and a parchment maker carefully schooled Theresa and her abilities to read, write and make parchment gained her a post with the church. Working for a blighted character of a man while suffering gossip and harassment from other church employees, Theresa managed to hold her own until an accident forced to flee for her life. Living off the land while evading capture, Theresa saves a young soldier as she makes her way to the Monastery in Fulda where she became Alcuin’s scribe. Alcuin of York was both a monk and a practiced herbalist with considerable deductive abilities reminiscent of Brother Cadfael from a television series by the same name. Theresa soon discovers a link between a terrible illness and the rampant corruption that is a part of Charlemagne’s rule but such knowledge is extremely dangerous.
While the setting and history have an authentic feel, Theresa’s education and worldview are much more contemporary in nature and seem out of place for the time period when such things as women’s rights were an alien concept. That said, her character is laudable and consistent throughout the book. There are two basic storylines winding through the book and at times, these tend to drag the pace, especially when Garrido goes on at length about historical points. Still, Garrido has clearly done a great deal of research and incorporated a real monk and a mysterious document into this compelling historical fiction.
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