Jo Oehrlein's Reviews > Pope Joan

Pope Joan by Donna Woolfolk Cross
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Jul 22, 2012

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This historical novel is based on legend and fact (although some of the facts are disputed). It is set in the 9th century. Joan is the daughter of an English father and a Saxon mother. Her father is a canon, very strict and abusive to Joan and her mom. Joan impresses a Greek monk, who tutors her and her brother. After he moves on, she is invited to attend the school at the Bishop’s palace. After a raid by the Norsemen kill the whole village, Joan (who has been held back repeatedly by her gender) decides she would be safer as a man. She studies at a monastery and later makes a pilgrimage to Rome. In Rome, she earns a reputation as a healer that brings her to the notice of the Pope. After serving 2 popes, she is elected pope herself. She dies of a miscarriage on the Via Sacra in Rome. The story also is a romance innocent enough for almost anyone (they do have one day of sex, but there are no details). There is a rape by the Norsemen and the fighting includes people getting cleaved in two. There’s also much of the various politicking, bribery, poisoning, turncoating, etc., that was part of Papal elections at the time.

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