Monday, November 16, 2009

Review: Pope Joan by Donna Woolfolk Cross

Book Info:
Pope Joan by Donna Woolfolk Cross
Paperback: 432 pages
Publisher: Three Rivers Press (June 9, 2009)
ISBN-13: 9780307452368
Genre: Historical Fiction
Source: My Shelves
Rating: 4.5/5 stars

For a thousand years men have denied her existence--Pope Joan, the woman who disguised herself as a man and rose to rule Christianity for two years. Now this compelling novel animates the legend with a portrait of an unforgettable woman who struggles against restrictions her soul cannot accept.

When her older brother dies in a Viking attack, the brilliant young Joan assumes his identity and enters a Benedictine monastery where, as Brother John Anglicus, she distinguishes herself as a scholar and healer. Eventually drawn to Rome, she soon becomes enmeshed in a dangerous mix of powerful passion and explosive politics that threatens her life even as it elevates her to the highest throne in the Western world.

I first heard about Pope Joan from the historical fiction board at Paperback Swap. It got rave reviews so I grabbed a copy as soon as I could...and then it sat on my shelf for over two and a half years! I wish I had made the time to read it sooner.

I loved Joan. In a time period when women had basically no status or rights she was an independent and intelligent woman. While she was forced to conceal her gender this never swayed her from her love of learning and doing what was right. She was a champion for women and an advocate for the poor.

Cross does a wonderful job with the story of Pope Joan. She includes plenty of information so you get a sense of the time period, but doesn't bog the story down with unnecessary details. The story flows wonderfully and I was sucked in right from the start. I also love reading the author notes on historical fiction books. I'm always interested in what details an author changed or omitted to make the story work better.

If you enjoy historical fiction, especially with strong female characters, but want something set in a time period you may not have tried before, definitely give Pope Joan a try. I can also see this one working well for a book club as there are plenty of issues to discuss. The version of the book I read also included discussion questions. 4.5 stars


Sandy Nawrot said...

This one was making its rounds earlier this year - was there a movie? I don't know, but there was something that put the book in the headlines, there were big giveaways and great reviews. I'm not a huge historical fiction fan, but with a personality as you described, I think I'd like it. I love strong female characters!

A Bookshelf Monstrosity said...

I really enjoyed Pope Joan. It's definitely one of my favorite historical fiction novels. Glad you liked it, too.

Darlene said...

Great review. This was one of my favorite books this year.

Oh on the reader, I got the pocket edition. I really find it great for reading at night. So much easier on the eyes.

Unknown said...

Yours is another great review; I can't wait to get it from my library.

Literary Feline said...

My copy of this one has been sitting on my TBR shelf for years. I started to read it once, but it wasn't the right time. One of these days I'll try again. I am glad you enjoyed it!

Anna said...

I only heard of this book a few months ago when I saw something about the movie. I definitely must read it at some point. Thanks for the review.

Diary of an Eccentric

Zibilee said...

I am really glad you liked this one. I have been wanting to get my hands on a copy for the past couple of months, and I'm excited about the movie. I really liked your review, very lucid and thoughtful!