Sarah Dunant is one of my go to historical fiction authors just like Tracy Chevalier. It’s a genre that I enjoy, but haven’t spent much time exploring. I admit that I was skeptical about reading a book that takes place in a convent and it’s true that this book isn’t as lush as The Birth of Venus or In the Company of the Courtesan. No matter. Dunant’s main character, Suora Zuana is the dispensary sister and that choice in itself gives her so much to work with. Early medicine is always fascinating and Zuana’s apothecary is a hidden gem in the cloister. I love it when she’s working on one of her remedies or tending her herb garden. Several times I wondered if I could use some of the remedies myself.* If I was forced to be a nun, I think I would want to be the dispensary sister. Suora Zuana is a wonderful character. She’s level-headed and though she is a friend of the Abbess, she tries to be neutral when it comes to convent politics. Who knew there was so much of it? Zuana has a great deal of freedom – time alone and time to study and record her medical successes and failures. She also has more freedom to move around the convent at odd hours tending her charges.
But, her peaceful life is turned upside-down when a young novice, Serafina enters the convent against her will. Zuana is charged with watching over this young, rebellious nun who has been accepted into the convent for her singing voice, but whose heart belongs to a young man not Jesus Christ. Zuana was not a willing entrant herself, but the death of her father gave her no other option. She uses those memories along with work in her dispensary to help temper Serafina’s spirit. Serafina is stronger than Zuana realizes and her internal turmoil mirrors that of the convent itself.
Great characters, intrigue, history, rich details all made this book a real treat. Plus, it moved me to tears. See this post.