The Mercy Seller

Written by Brenda Rickman Vantrease
Review by Ilysa Magnus

Anna Bookman and her grandfather, Finn, make their living illuminating precious books in early 15th-century Prague, a hotbed of religious change. Jan Hus, a Lollard follower, is challenging the Church’s authority, spreading the word that the religious texts should be available to people in their native language. The Church takes the position that religious texts must only be written in Latin and that those who copy and spread religious texts in native tongues are heretics subject to the most horrible punishment.

After one of many religious purges, Anna attempts to commit suicide but is saved by a gypsy, Jetta, who has a profound impact on her life. However, it becomes clear to Anna that she must leave Prague or face possible persecution. She travels to England, Finn’s final wish for her, carrying her most prized possession – a Wycliffe Bible, written in English. Anna later learns why Finn has chosen England for Anna as her safe haven.

When Anna stops in Rheims to sell her work, she meets and falls in love with a rich, young merchant. She does not know that this is Brother Gabriel, a friar previously engaged in selling pardons, sent on a mission by Arundel, Archbishop of Canterbury, as a Church spy.

What could become a soap opera is a beautiful, complex love story in Vantrease’s talented hands. Although some of the Anna-Gabriel plot is predictable, how they come to understand their destinies, confront their greatest fears and deal with the very terrible reality of the Church’s power – represented marvelously in Arundel who is frighteningly real – is lovingly drawn by an author whose has a unique ability to build a story and develop characters.

A highly recommended read.