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Bohemian Gospel


Bohemian Gospel

Although strong female protagonists have made a huge literary impact in recent years, few have caught my attention like Mouse, the enigmatic main character of Dana Chamblee Carpenter’s stunning debut, BOHEMIAN GOSPEL. A combination of dark fantasy and rich historical detail, this book has it all: romance, suspense and even a healthy dose of the supernatural. And at the center of it all is 15-year-old Mouse, one of the most well-rounded, fascinating characters I have ever had the pleasure of reading about.

Set in 13th-century Bohemia, BOHEMIAN GOSPEL follows the rise of the Golden and Iron King and the mysterious girl who saves him from certain death within the very first pages. Though she lives at an abbey, Mouse does not belong to the church --- or anyone else, for that matter, as she was brought to the abbey by a nursemaid who died when she was young. In a time when class and social standing are all that matter, Mouse’s lack of kin is a dangerous disadvantage. Although she is loved by abbot Father Lucas and prioress and healer Mother Kazi, there are those within the abbey who find her a bit unnerving. Gifted with an uncanny intellect, flawless memory and an innate ability to heal, Mouse certainly has an air of the supernatural about her. And these are just the gifts she openly reveals.

"A combination of dark fantasy and rich historical detail, this book has it all: romance, suspense and even a healthy dose of the supernatural.... BOHEMIAN GOSPEL is a beautiful work, and I cannot wait to read more from Carpenter."

In addition to her intellect and talent for healing, Mouse can see souls, speak to spirits and much more. It is through the combined uses of all of these gifts that Mouse first rescues Ottakar, the young king in the midst of a fight for the throne who has been betrayed by one of his own men. Unofficially known as the “Younger King,” Ottakar is running from his father’s supporters, nobles who would rather have the older man rule despite his obvious lack of sanity. Overstepping her role as a young woman, Mouse saves the Younger King, earning his respect and admiration. Although a dangerous move, it’s one that sets the course for the rest of Mouse’s journey and grants her freedom from the abbey. As Ottakar heals, an obvious attraction grows between him and Mouse, fortified by her uncanny ability to measure and mend his pains and injuries. Claiming her as his ward, Ottakar brings Mouse with him to his kingdom in Prague. Finally amongst the general public, Mouse must use every single one of her peculiar gifts to blend in with the ladies and lords of court --- all while hiding her most supernatural talents.

Carpenter has many strengths as a writer --- the ability to create such a fleshed-out world is high among them --- but it is at this point in the book that her talent soars from every page. Although the reader still doesn’t know much about Mouse, it is impossible not to ache with suspense as we watch her navigate the ins and outs of courtly life. At the same time, Mouse’s mysterious origins provide a continuous source of thrill, as the reader is torn between the knowledge that she is lacking some fundamental source of light and the fact that she uses her gifts only for good. Why, then, do her talents scare even those closest to her? Carpenter holds the answer at bay until the book is nearly over, teasing her readers with clues while aligning them with Mouse as she struggles to do good and still empower herself as a woman, healer and soldier.

As Mouse begins to enjoy court, finding a balance between her growing feelings for Ottakar and her search for her heritage, an unlikely guest interrupts her joy. Father Lucas, the closest thing she has to a parent, long believed dead, is alive and well, and Mouse must join him to save the kingdom from the dark spirits that are drawn to her powers. Around the same time, Ottakar’s mad father also returns to court, further distancing her from Ottakar as he tries to convince his son that he wants a truce. Of course, nothing is as it seems in Bohemia, so Mouse must determine the best course for everyone while learning to harness and direct her powers. It is a painful journey but one that she believes God has planned for her and her alone.

To say anymore about Mouse’s story would be a disservice to Carpenter, whose perfect pacing and careful attention to detail make every step of Mouse’s path utterly compelling, highly suspenseful and, above all, compulsively readable. Although I am not typically a fan of fantasy, I never once found the plot overly dramatic or confusing. And, as I stated above, there is certainly a little something for everyone here. BOHEMIAN GOSPEL is a beautiful work, and I cannot wait to read more from Carpenter. I only hope she returns to Mouse one day, as I am dying to hear more about this enigmatic character.

Reviewed by Rebecca Munro on November 25, 2015

Bohemian Gospel
by Dana Chamblee Carpenter

  • Publication Date: October 25, 2016
  • Genres: Fiction, Historical Fiction
  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Pegasus Books
  • ISBN-10: 1681772426
  • ISBN-13: 9781681772424