THE BURNING TIMES is a story of a woman, told by a woman, that is mystical and harsh in its recreation of history. Reminiscent of Marion Zimmer Bradley's Avalon series, Jeanne Kalogridis has crafted a triumphant tale of love and compassion.
Mother Marie Françoise is an immensely powerful priestess whose healing powers have been declared anti-Church. After a lifetime of hiding from the forces of the Inquisition, she allows herself to be captured by them.
It is after her capture, when a young priest has been ordered to take her confession, that Kalogridis introduces Marie's story. The Dominican Brother Michel believes that Marie is not "relapsa," or one who had taken Christ into her heart and then consciously rejected faith. He offers her a chance to confess her sins and save herself from burning at the stake. The story she reveals, however, is one of magic and pagan ritual, most definitely not a tale of Christianity.
Given the cruelty of the Church's Inquisition, Marie's heretical story is inspiring and compassionate. In her beliefs, all things are sacred. In the Church, at the time of the Inquisition, all things are suspect and subject to burning. Michel quickly succumbs to her charms.
Marie begins, quite simply, at the beginning. Despite Michel's urgings to condense her confession, she does not. Her stubborn insistence on sharing everything with her audience allows her to captivate the reader and Michel completely. Born to a superstitious Christian Frenchwoman and an Italian descendent of "The Race," Marie chooses to follow the religion of her father. The members of "The Race" follow a pagan religion worshipping the Earth Mother, known to Romans as Diana and adopted by the Church into the Virgin Mary. Marie has the power to be the Goddess incarnate, if she can overcome fear and find her predestined love.
Kalogridis underplays this rather obvious key to salvation well. While she makes it obvious that THE BURNING TIMES is a story of redeeming love, she does not make it easy for love to triumph. Marie, Michel, and their supporting cast seem to be constantly outmaneuvered and defeated.
Kalogridis doesn't forget the historical events of war, plague, and burnings at the stake. These fueled the superstitious and suspicious times of 14th century France. She describes the horrors clearly and with purpose. These are terrible incidents but they give meaning to Marie's destiny and lead her to both her love and her enemy.
THE BURNING TIMES lays the foundation for more of Marie's adventures in history. Jeanne Kalogridis has created a heroine of epic proportions and a cast of characters that are equally rich. No stranger to series, Kalogridis is the author of the Diaries of the Family Dracul trilogy and, hopefully, she will continue the saga of Marie, Michel, and the French Inquisition in the near future.
Reviewed by Amee Vyas on January 21, 2011
The Burning Times: A Novel of Medieval France