Italy, 1453. Seventeen-year-old Luca Vero is brilliant, gorgeous—and accused of heresy. Cast out of his religious order for using the new science to question old superstitious beliefs, Luca is recruited into a secret sect: The Order of the Dragon, commissioned by Pope Nicholas V to investigate evil and danger in its many forms, and strange occurrences across Europe, in this year—the end of days.
Isolde is a seventeen-year-old girl shut up in a nunnery so she can’t inherit any of her father’s estate. As the nuns walk in their sleep and see strange visions, Isolde is accused of witchcraft—and Luca is sent to investigate her, but finds himself plotting her escape.
Despite their vows, despite themselves, love grows between Luca and Isolde as they travel across Europe with their faithful companions, Freize and Ishraq. The four young people encounter werewolves, alchemists, witches, and death-dancers as they head toward a real-life historical figure who holds the boundaries of Christendom and the secrets of the Order of the Dragon.
The year is 1453 and I like me a book that starts off in a dark dungeon of a castle in the middle ages! Blame it on the season or my mood, but I found books 1-3 of The Order of Darkness in a used book store and when I can get books in a set, I somehow think I am the luckiest person on Earth to have found them.
I have not once read a Philippa Gregory book before and from what I understand, this series was her first attempt to write for the YA audience. There are many mixed reviews on it and so here is my impression without it being shadowed or tainted by any of her other works that I cannot judge or compare against.
In the Italian countryside near Rome, Luca Vero is ordered to travel through the Christendom and its edges to investigate any wrong doings or curiosities that would suggest evil or unchristian practices by the devil or other spirits. Call it a guard or police if you will.
Parallel, Isolde, 17, has been sent to become a nun at this monastery to forego her inheritance as Lady Abbess. Trapped in this situation, she is conspiring a plan to escape in any way and right a situation that has been going on at this nunnery for a long time. This is the point where Luca Vero comes in to investigate at the monastery and the two of them meet for the first time. Have I mentioned yet, that Luca is a very handsome 17 year old? Well, there you have it.
Although you would immediately conclude a budding love story, it did not go there in this novel…..at least not how you may think. However, there were some unexpected, peculiar things happening, that I did not expect at all:
"The two girls had their sleeves rolled up and were blood-stained to the elbows, standing over the dead body of Sister Augusta......wielding a bloodied knife in her hand, disemboweling the dead girl" -p.135
"Sisters! Kill him!" The nuns, pale and dull-faced, formed themselves into an unbreakable circle, like a wall of coldness, and took one step toward the three men and then took another step closer. - p175
So what the heck is going on at this monastery?
Well, if this doesn’t seem strange…it gets even better. From bandits in the countryside to werewolves tormenting a town that Luca is investigating......
The end of book 1 is left to continue in the next book and I venture to guess Luca will further guard and roam around in his jurisdiction. I found the flair of this novel to remind me a bit of Robin Hood or the Princess Bride. Written to appeal to today’s reader, yet atmospheric and not too heavy. I was certainly not expecting any of the things that happened in this novel and was rather surprised, but I am not sure if that would be the case for any experienced fantasy reader. I’d consider this an ease into historical fantasy, and for Gregory’s first YA novel, it wasn’t a bad start. Definitely worth to try the next one in this series.