“Jan Hus chose an open window in the left tower of Tyn Church from which to watch the burning. This church gave him courage. It was a Hussite church, a Czech church, not built with Roman funds but built by and for the people of Bohemia. Yet even here in this sacred place, he could not stop the grinding in his gut was he watched the scene unfold below. This burning in the town square was Archbishop’s Zynbek’s declaration of war.”
The Mercy Seller is Brenda Rickman Vantrease’s sequel to her excellent first novel, The Illuminator. Set in Prague and England during the fifteenth century, we follow the story of a young girl who was raised by her grandfather Finn, the illuminator from the previous book. Finn and his group of friends are sympathetic to the Lollard cause, an anti-catholic collection of persons who yearn for religious freedom. As the story opens, Anna’s boyfriend is executed for heresy. The aged Finn dies soon thereafter and the authorities are clamping down on persons who own and distribute bibles translated from the Latin text. Anna must flee.
Anna’s journey takes her to France, where she falls in love with a man who seduces her and leaves her pregnant. It turns out that man is a priest, ordered by his church to seek out heresy.
Vantrease writes an exciting novel, but I had several problems with it. Being a Catholic who has studied much about the theology behind my faith, I found the character of Father Gabriel to be lacking. If he was so learned, how come he could not counter Anna’s arguments against his Church. Certainly, many were grounded. But corruption within the Catholic Church did not automatically nullify the theological principles of the faith itself. The author tried to portray Father Gabriel as a good guy, but he obviously wasn’t very faith filled. From first seeking to to relieve his sexual desires, to easily leaving his Church later – it all seemed unrealistic and neatly wrapped up.
I also did not like the character of Anna. At first she seemed to act her age and was less outspoken. Later on, however, she becomes a reckless, outspoken fool. I am amazed that she and Gabriel could speak to each other at all, much less agree to marry.
While Vantrease uses some real history and characters in the book, I questioned some of the Lollard beliefs in the book. I’m no expert on Lollard history, but it seems a bit out there. I’ll have to do some fact checking to see if the author did indeed do her homework.
3 stars (out of 5)
Published in 2007