“Pope Joan has all the elements one wants in a historical drama—love, sex, violence, duplicity, and long-buried secrets. Cross has written an engaging book.”—Los Angeles Times Book Review
In this international bestseller and basis for the 2009 movie of the same name, Donna Woolfolk Cross brings the Dark Ages to life in all their brutal splendor and shares the dramatic story of a woman whose strength of vision led her to defy the social restrictions of her day.
For a thousand years her existence has been denied. She is the legend that will not die—Pope Joan, the ninth-century woman who disguised herself as a man and rose to become the only female ever to sit on the throne of St. Peter. Now in this riveting novel, Cross paints a sweeping portrait of an unforgettable heroine who struggles against restrictions her soul cannot accept.
Brilliant and talented, young Joan rebels against medieval social strictures forbidding women to learn. When her brother is brutally killed during a Viking attack, Joan takes up his cloak—and his identity—and enters the monastery of Fulda. As Brother John Anglicus, Joan distinguishes herself as a great scholar and healer. Eventually, she is drawn to Rome, where she becomes enmeshed in a dangerous web of love, passion, and politics. Triumphing over appalling odds, she finally attains the highest office in Christendom—wielding a power greater than any woman before or since. But such power always comes at a price . . .
“Brings the savage ninth century vividly to life in all its alien richness. An enthralling, scholarly historical novel.”—Rebecca Fraser, author of The Brontës
Cross makes an excellent, entertaining case in her work of historical fiction that, in the Dark Ages, a woman sat on the papal throne for two years. Born in Ingelheim in A.D. 814 to a tyrannical English canon and the once-heathen Saxon he made his wife, Joan shows intelligence and persistence from an early age. One of her two older brothers teaches her to read and write, and her education is furthered by a Greek scholar who instructs her in languages and the classics. Her mother, however, sings her the songs of her pagan gods, creating a dichotomy within her daughter that will last throughout her life. The Greek scholar arranges for the continuation of her education at the palace school of the Lord Bishop of Dorstadt, where she meets the red-haired knight Gerold, who is to become the love of her life. After a savage attack by Norsemen destroys the village, Joan adopts the identity of her older brother, slain in the raid, and makes her way to Fulda, to become the learned scholar and healer Brother John Anglicus. After surviving the plague, Joan goes to Rome, where her wisdom and medical skills gain her entrance into papal circles. Lavishly plotted, the book brims with fairs, weddings and stupendous banquets, famine, plague and brutal battles. Joan is always central to the vivid action as she wars with the two sides of herself, "mind and heart, faith and doubt, will and desire." Ultimately, though she leads a man's life, Joan dies a woman's death, losing her life in childbirth. In this colorful, richly imagined novel, Cross ably inspires a suspension of disbelief, pulling off the improbable feat of writing a romance starring a pregnant pope.
Customer ReviewsSee All
Excellent read, hard to put down, very informing, loved it.
Seriously, one of the best, most engaging books I have read in a long time. I couldn't put it down. I love a great historical novel--especially one based on fact or legend--and this one grabbed me from the start. Really well written, with all the aspects of a gripping novel, but also historically accurate. I can't recommend BookBub enough. Great service. I paid $1.99 for this book, based on their recommendation.
What a great, well-written story. I could not wait to pick it up and see where the story went next. The characters are interesting, the plot takes a number of unexpected twists and it really made me think on a number of different levels. Whatever your religious affiliation, this will be most enjoyable.