Changeling: Order of Darkness, Book 1

Written by Philippa Gregory
Review by Richard Lee

First in a series for young adults, Changeling follows Luca, an Italian orphan adopted by the Church, and his investigations into supernatural happenings.

At first the book seems a huis clos, with Luca and his boisterous servant Frieze uncomfortably settled in a nunnery afflicted – or blessed? – by visionaries and nuns bearing stigmata. This plot, however, resolves early, and a picaresque tale unfolds ending with a werewolf mystery. The main point, one feels at the end, has been to introduce us to four attractive lead characters: Luca and Frieze, with their female counterparts Isolde, an aristocratic beauty, and Ishraq, Isolde’s muslim servant. Future books will concern other adventures with magic and witchcraft, and no doubt romance and strife between the protagonists.

The parts that worked best for me were Gregory’s effortless introduction of historical nuggets – like the esoteric understanding of the new number zero – and the development of the lead characters. Frieze edges it for me as favourite at present, but Ishraq may become equally engaging as we get to know her more. Luca for now is too good to be true, but has potential. Isolde also has potential, but I found it took me a while to imagine her differently from her representation in Larry Rostant’s teen-targeted cover art (too… brash?).

The thing I found uncomfortable in Changeling was the choice, essentially, of inquisitors as heroes. This book is set in 1453, so before the infamous Spanish Inquisition – but Joan of Arc had already been burnt at the stake in 1431, and the first papal bull authorizing torture by inquisitors was as early as 1252. So despite the fact that Luca is humane to a fault in his attitudes, I was left with this uneasiness. At what point in future books is he going to meet with a bad inquisitor, and how will that work in a teen novel?