Judith Tarr's Ars Magica is wonderful tale of a young monk in the 10th Century who learns the secrets of magic while rising in power and influence within the medieval Church. The mixture of fact (the main characters are almost all versions of real people) and fantasy is well-developed, and the author's essay on the historical basis of her work is informative and fascinating. Fans of Tim Powers, another master of historical fantasy, may well find much to enjoy in this great novel.
This is a historical fantasy of how a young peasant monk rose to be the Roman Catholic Pope in the 10th and 11th century. Ms. Tarr based almost all her characters on real people and real historical events. History also records rumors which said Pope Sylvester II, known to the readers as Gilbert, used magic and the forbidden Arts. Ms. Tarr took this rumor and turned it into a fascinating story of a young monk's rise to power helped by friends, his own resourcefulness and dedication, as well as a little help from his study of magic. The story also emphasizes that nothing comes without a price, as Gilbert is always haunted by death and suspicion.
A great story, especially if you enjoy historical fantasy. Anyone who knows the time period would probably love Ms. Tarr's references to historical information.