The Scribe

Written by Antonio Garrido Simon Bruni (trans.)
Review by Jeff Westerhoff

Theresa, trained to become a talented scribe, is about to take her final exam in Würzburg, Austrasia, in the 8th century. At a time when women are viewed as Eve, the first and ultimate sinner according to Christianity’s Bible, everyone but her father believes that no good will come of taking this exam, and this day turns into almost indescribable tragedy. Theresa flees the city for an unknown destiny, leaving behind confusion, mourning, and accusations.

Theresa’s skills in reading and writing Latin and Greek serve to help her find a job copying codices and other works for the monk Alcuin of York, King Charlemagne’s right-hand man. Two mysteries arise out of a missing document written for Charlemagne by Theresa’s father. Numerous brutal fights, executions, murders and wounds ensue, and Theresa is hard-pressed to decide if Alcuin and a lover, Hoos, are sincere or are blatant liars contending for a mysterious ultimate prize.

The desperate criminal characters are the glue that holds readers’ fascination along with Alcuin’s and Theresa’s unique powers of observation and connection. While the language between the latter is somewhat stilted and drawn out, the progressive steps to solve these mysteries are superb. Of even more interest is a question raised by Theresa regarding Alcuin’s fanatical quest to find what Charlemagne is desperate to possess. The Scribe depicts the primitive and challenging culture of medieval life within a riddle-ridden story, elements that are notably intriguing as well. In summary, The Scribe is exhilarating, highly recommended historical fiction.