Book Review of The Illuminator

The Illuminator
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Helpful Score: 2


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A medieval illuminator with radical views finds himself sharing quarters with a widow struggling to preserve her independence in this enthralling historical novel set in the 14th century, a time of religious strife. Lady Kathryn, mistress of Blackingham Manor in East Anglia, must be practical to ensure the future of her 15-year-old twin sons. Little as she cares for the money-grubbing worthies of the local abbey, she is happy to do them a favor by taking in a master illuminator as lodger. Finn, a widower with a 16-year-old daughter, proves to be a congenial guest. He is educated, perceptive and kind--and soon, irresistible to Kathryn. Their subsequent passionate affair blinds them to the romance developing between Finn's innocent daughter, Rose, and Kathryn's pious son, Colin. Meanwhile, the unsolved murder of an unscrupulous priest on the manor grounds puts everyone in jeopardy, and Finn's secret sympathy with John Wycliffe and his Lollard followers, who champion an English translation of the Scriptures, endangers his livelihood, not to mention his life. Kathryn's plainspoken fortitude and warring loyalties to lover and sons make her a compelling figure, and Vantrease's secondary characters are brilliantly sketched as well: confused Colin; his carousing brother, Alfred; Agnes, Lady Kathryn's cook and confidante since childhood; Half-Tom, a courageous dwarf. In Vantrease's medieval England, justice is determined by the powerful; violence is a first, not a last, resort; and love must take second place to duty. This is an absorbing, expertly told tale, plainly and forthrightly written and embroidered with plenty of homespun detail.