Behold The Bohemian Gospel, by Dana Chamblee Carpenter, an intricate, compelling novel set in 13th Century Prague. (And you know how I feel about Prague!
Dark and despairing in so many ways, the clarity and audacity of this harrowing tale will leave you breathless.
At its center is Mouse, an unbaptized girl for whom no one ever cared enough to give a proper name. Raised in an abbey whose sisterhood she can never be allowed to join, Mouse is a gifted healer who possesses other, more frightening gifts as well.
She's 15 when she saves the life of Ottakar, the "Younger King" of Bohemia; he's on the brink of death when his men bring him to the abbey from the battlefield. Only a few years older than Mouse, Ottakar rules in an uneasy alliance with his tyrant father.
Whisked off to Prague to aid the recovery of the Younger King, unworldly Mouse struggles to navigate life at court and understand the intense attraction growing between herself and Ottakar — all while trying to solve the puzzle of her birth and the source of her powers.
|The seal of the histoical King Ottakar, ca. 1253|
But it's Mouse — both vulnerable and defiant, intelligent and intuitive, in and out of God's favor, yet boldly carving out a place for herself in an unforgiving world — whose journey keeps us turning the pages.
There's a lot to process in this book, plot-wise — including a finale so incendiary, readers might be outraged if we didn't know there was another book (or two) coming to complete the story. Yet the book is such a vivid portrait of the human spirit, in all its strengths and weaknesses, as well as the complexities of its medieval era, that you can't help getting swept along like a current in Vltava River by the drama of these characters' lives.
PS: In Christian lore, "Gospel" means "good news" — ironic, when the central mystery of this book is finally revealed!