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The Illuminator (The Illuminator #1)

3.73  ·  Rating Details ·  4,920 Ratings  ·  372 Reviews
A glowing first novel that brings us "historical fiction in the grand epic manner, beautifully felt and written"

It is England, in the fourteenth century -- a time of plague, political unrest and the earliest stirrings of the Reformation. The printing press had yet to be invented, and books were rare and costly, painstakingly lettered by hand and illuminated with exquisite
Paperback, 406 pages
Published December 27th 2005 by St. Martin's Griffin (first published January 1st 2004)
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Jun 06, 2010 C.W. rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Brenda Rickman Vantrese's debut novel is an unsentimental, vivid immersion into the tumult and struggle of 14th century England, featuring an indomitable but flawed widow fighting to safeguard her sons' inheritance, a conflicted translator and illuminator of religious manuscripts who hides a secret, as well as an assortment of other characters who reflect both the differences in class and wealth of the era, including an anchorite, dwarf, a stalwart housekeeper, and a rapacious bishop.

Jan 22, 2008 Carina rated it it was ok
Recommends it for: Teenagers who'd like a taste of historical fiction without too much 'content' to offend or challenge
While the book begins with promise and develops a fairly interesting narrative, it degenerates into a mess of quickly tied up story lines. So many of the characters had such promise, for instance the scullery maid who sees auras, that when the promise isn't realized, it's quite disappointing. My eyes rolled at the epilogue. I found several modern ideas in the book that were anachronistic. Having read the Follet books (Pillars of the Earth, etc.) recently, I couldn't help but compare this medieva ...more
Katie Ann
Jan 31, 2008 Katie Ann rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Bible enthusiasts and those who like historical fiction
Christians forget that the Bible was not available to the mass market for many many years. This novel tells about the start of the John Wycliffe movement that changed the face of Christianity forever.
Apr 18, 2008 CatarinaG rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2006
Review from ceruleana (Manhattan, NY) at

At the end of the fourteenth century, England was riddled with plagues, wars, uprisings, and political and religious strife. King Richard II, son of Edward the Black Prince, was crowned in 1377, when he was just ten years-old. His two uncles, John of Gaunt, and Thomas of Glouster, vied for power during the Protectorate, the young King's minority. Meanwhile all Christianity was suffering through the Great Schism. Pope Boniface VIII and King Phili
Jan 14, 2009 Rachel rated it did not like it
Call me snooty, but this book is, to me, a great example of a book's popularity and its quality being completely at odds. This book was a national bestseller, and I could not bring myself to keep reading after the first 100 pages of the novel. Other than the (really, quite compelling) underlying plot concerning the translation of the Bible into English, just about everything else in the book (characters, relationships, etc.) felt artificial and anachronistic. Think modern-day soap opera set in 1 ...more
Jun 28, 2016 Athena rated it it was ok
Recommends it for: historical fiction readers who can forgive errors
Readable, with flaws. I think this became so popular in the US because the 14th century isn't taught here anymore (except "plague!") below upper level college history courses.

The Illuminator is a moderately-well-researched, modestly well-presented novel of 14th century England at a time when what would eventually become the Reformation was being birthed. Vantrease attempts to encompass historical happenings within a story showing their results on individuals with varied success: the main plot
Christy English
Jan 28, 2012 Christy English rated it it was amazing
I loved this book...such a fresh take on the 14th century. The emergence of the middle class, the dead knell of serfdom, the lingering effects of the Black Death, and over riding all, the redemption of love in all its forms. A beautiful book.
Jul 09, 2012 Robyn rated it it was ok
Shelves: reviewed
This is a well written historical romance, backed up (or so a casual googling tells me) with some pretty good historical research.

The author has a lot of strengths, when she decides to be descriptive she does so very well; despite this being in large part, a romance, I was never inundated with too much lust. In that respect, I really enjoyed the restraint, it seemed to fit in with the time period better. The characters are pretty well defined, if a bit stereotypical at times. If you love histor
Oct 14, 2007 April rated it it was ok
I listened to this one on CD and although I really liked some aspects of it and found it historically interesting, it was just too predictible and seemed like everything had to go wrong for everyone just to show the difficult times. I don't know how much of that is the plotline and writing and how much of it is my bias. It's also quite wordy and took some time to really get into it. Wouldn't recommend it to anyone that doesn't absolutely love this period in history and very sad and sensational d ...more
Feb 05, 2015 Natalie rated it it was amazing
Shelves: read-2015
Odlična! Sve u jednom; povijest, ljubav, izdaja, problematična djeca :), dobar rasplet...Baš uživancija.
Oct 26, 2014 Knjigomanijak rated it it was amazing

Svi čitatelji koji vole dobar povijesni roman, zasigurno će doći na svoje, ako pročitaju ovu knjigu.
Radnja se odvija u Engleskoj u 14. stoljeću. Glavna protagonistica romana je udovica lady Kathryn koja živi sama na svom posjedu sa petnaestogodišnjim blizancima koja se bori za svoju samostalnost, jer uz lovce na njen miraz postoji tu još puno problema s kojima se susreće. Tu je prije svega Crkva, te pohlepno plemstvo koje joj svakim danom zagorčava život. Na nagovor Crkve, ona pristaje u svoj d
Mirah W
Aug 20, 2011 Mirah W rated it it was amazing
The Illuminator was an excellent read! Wonderful characters and believeable circumstances. I think Vantrease did a great job intertwining the lives of real and fictional characters. In a discussion with the author, Vantrease acknowledges that two of her characters were not initially intended and ended up taking roles she had not expected...and I think these are the two best characters in the book: sweet Magda and loyal Half-Tom. These two characters take on key roles and, without their actions, ...more
Eileen Mulshine
Apr 28, 2016 Eileen Mulshine rated it it was amazing
I listened to this a few years ago and really liked it. Reading it was even better! This historical fiction was true to the times. I read Julian of Norwich's book, so I was delighted that she was one of the characters. She was the first woman to write in the English common language of that time. The bishop, Henry Despenser was one of the villains of the story, again a true historical figure.
Jul 17, 2010 Gaile rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 14th-century
I spent all day Sunday reading this book. Although I did know books were copied and painted by hand In 1379, I didn't know the Bible was already being translated into English this early. There were some people who knew too much and John Wycliffe was one of them.
He sneaked his writings to an Illuminator named Finn who painted the borders and letters.
All the character in this book are affected by the "heretic" writings of Wycliffe although the man himself only appears in the first chapter.
Jan 16, 2013 Cami rated it did not like it
Recommends it for: no one
Honestly, it is hard to review this book. I'll start by first saying that the best thing that came out of it was that it caused me to look at the Book of John from the New Testament on it's own merit and not just as a part of "The Gospels."
The Illuminator is a man who has the artistic gift that Bishops and other clergy-men would pay a high price to have illuminate (or embellish with art) their biblical texts.
There were too many modern attitudes that didn't fit the century depicted here. The rela
Sep 23, 2007 Aiesha rated it it was amazing
This is one of my favorite books. I love the time in history that is covered (when John Wyclif wrote the first Bible in the vernacular in England) and loved the main character. She was resilient at a time when women had no rights.
May 10, 2007 Stacey rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Most
Historical fiction the way it should be. A strong sense of time and place with characters both distant and entirely relatable in their passions. Ultimately sad, poignant and redemptive.
Jan 12, 2014 Pam rated it really liked it
You could really be in for a bad time if you lived in 14th century England, and you dared to believe in anything other than the current social order, and especially the supremacy of the Catholic Church.
The Illuminator was no formula romance, nor was it a murder mystery, although those things were definitely there. I would instead classify it as just historical fiction.
About halfway through reading it, I really didn't like the direction in which the storyline was headed - The main character bec
Betty Strohecker
Feb 27, 2015 Betty Strohecker rated it it was amazing
Set in late 14th century England, this first novel by Brenda Rickman Vantrease is a masterful telling of medieval society with its strict mores regarding cultural, political, and religious life. As a widow, Lady Kathryn must struggle to hold onto her land and provide a future for her children while following the dictates of church and king. She agrees to house widower Finn, a master illuminator, and his daughter as a favor to the local abbot while Finn illustrates manuscripts for the church. Sec ...more
Wendy Mao
Jun 10, 2014 Wendy Mao rated it really liked it
At face value, this book was quite an interesting read. It kept me relatively engrossed, except for the parts where characters are having long-winded religious battles in their heads. This book does tend to be very dramatic - everything from physical attraction to religious beliefs are drawn out like a soap opera, in which everything bad that could happen does happen. Set in a time where English isn't even an official language, and in which corruption marks the church, this story takes things a ...more
Apr 03, 2014 Lynda rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I truly enjoyed the visual sights and sounds of Brenda Rickman Vantrease's writing. She places the reader into the late 14th century of the English noble, feudal, and Church run society. Life is a dangerous proposition. Free thinking is not encouraged. Religious freedom is only granted to the Roman Catholic Church. The order of society states that you are born into your station, and that is where you will stay. John Wycliffe is translating the Bible into the English language so that the common m ...more
Ellen Ekstrom
Aug 07, 2011 Ellen Ekstrom rated it it was amazing
I started to read this book when it was first launched, put it down and forgot about it - don't know why! This was an amazing story that, two days after finishing it, I'm still thinking about the characters and the great story. Christian Mythos, Historical Theology is my area of concentration and this story about the Lollard Movement in late 14th century England was fascinating, especially when the general public just assumes the reformation was started in England by Henry VIII's divorce of Cath ...more
Nov 15, 2012 Vicki rated it really liked it
Set in 14th century England, this compelling tale takes readers to a socially dark period in time. Both the hierarchy of the Church and the aristocracy protected by the king terribly misuse and oppress the poor, who have almost no rights. This is the time of the translator John Wycliffe whose mission it is to translate scripture into the language of the people. The established church feels very much threatened by his work, as it sees the potential to loosen the stranglehold they have on the mass ...more
Jan 16, 2010 Irene rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Irene by: Ken's dad
Shelves: fiction
If half-stars were allowed, I'd have given this book 2 1/2 stars. The fact that it held my interest makes it more than "ok", but I wouldn't exactly say I "liked" it.

To be fair, I don't think I'm the target audience for this book. The back cover has glowing praise from authors I don't know. (I assume they write novels in the same genre.) It's historical fiction, which I have nothing against, but I'm just usually not interested in such books (or movies). If I'm going to read about history, I pref
Andrea Karotkin
May 17, 2008 Andrea Karotkin rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Good historical romance though more graphic violence than sex, taking place in England during the first stirrings of the Reformation. The Church and state bleed the peasants dry. The feudal system can't last. 4 real life characters are in the background. John Wycliffe was the first to translate the Bible into English. Julian of Norwich is an anchoress (lives locked in a hut next to the church) and is the first woman to write int he English language.

Finn was the the illuminator of sacred texts wh
Jul 15, 2014 Cindy rated it really liked it
Do we all fall prey to book covers and labels? I do, sometimes a title will intrigue me as well. I think publishers know this since the cover caught my eye. I had read nothing or heard nothing about the author however, which always makes me as skeptical as an author's first publication. I wanted to read something period, and this was going to be gamble. Cashed in my chips on this one. The characters were strong and believable. The story absolutely took me in. I loved the attention to detail. Aft ...more
Sep 21, 2016 craige rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction
It was an incredibly engrossing book despite its many flaws. I wish so many elements could have been played up (the aura-seeing maid, the beginnings of writing in English, the translation of the Bible into English). It was obviously written well enough to keep me up til 2am reading it on Friday, and I was truly interested in the outcome. But the end was frustrating. I really don't see why it had to end like that.

Be forewarned: there are some gruesome elements.

Mumsy, I will gladly send it to you
Apr 20, 2015 Rawles rated it really liked it
Lots of mixed reviews on this book! Three and a half stars really, but I bumped it to four just to get your attention. Ha. I love historical fiction, and while I will agree this was no Pillars of the Earth (be still my heart), this was sort of in the same vein. I won't repeat the synopsis here. I think this first time author did a fantastic job of weaving historical figures and events into her story. I think this time period is brave and obviously the topic of translating the Bible into English ...more
Jul 10, 2014 Jan rated it liked it
Interesting. The historical part seemed pretty authentic, but the dialogue and the characters seemed a little more 20th Century than 14th. That makes it an easy and entertaining read, though, so I'm not complaining. It was a fun read, and I felt like I learned a little bit about English history in the bargain.

The Epilogue seemed a little forced - like it had been an afterthought when someone decided there should be another book. Maybe it was just calling it an Epilogue that made it feel that way
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Brenda Rickman Vantrease (born in 1945) is a former librarian and English teacher from Nashville, Tennessee. She grew up and was educated in the Middle Tennessee area where she graduated with a B.A. in English from Belmont University in 1967. During the twenty-five years she served as an educator in Nashville, she earned a masters degree and a doctorate from Middle Tennessee State University. Bren ...more
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