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Hildegard of Bingen #1

The Greenest Branch

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In The Greenest Branch the medieval era comes vividly to life in all its romanticism and splendor, but the societal strictures that prevent women from being able to access education and live independent lives are also on display.

The year is 1115, and Germany is torn apart by a conflict between the Emperor and the Pope over who should have the right to appoint bishops and control the empire’s vast estates. In that atmosphere, young Hildegard is sent to the Abbey of St. Disibod in the Rhineland as her parents’ gift to the Church in accordance with a custom known as the tithe.

Hildegard has a deep love of nature and a knowledge of herbal healing that might make more than one Church official suspicious of witchery, and she hopes to purse medical studies at St. Disibod. But no sooner does she settle into her new life than she finds out that as a girl she will not be allowed to attend the monastic school or use the abbey’s library; instead, she must stay at the women’s convent, isolated from the rest of the community and from the town.

It might seem that Hildegard’s dreams have quickly come to an end. Yet she refuses to be sidelined. Against fierce opposition from Prior Helenger, the hostile head of the monks’ cloister, she finds another way to learn – by securing an apprenticeship with Brother Wigbert who runs the infirmary and is in dire need of a capable assistant. Under his supervision, she begins to train as the abbey’s first female physician and makes rapid progress.

When Hildegard’s reputation starts to spread throughout the Rhineland, Helenger’s persecution escalates as he fears losing control over the women’s community. But that is not the only challenge she must grapple with. She has also developed feelings for Volmar, a fellow Benedictine novice, that force Hildegard to re-examine the fundamental assumptions she has made about her life. Is the practice of medicine within the monastic confines her true calling, or is a quiet existence of domestic contentment more desirable?

With the pressures mounting and threatening to derail her carefully-laid plans, Hildegard becomes locked in a struggle that will either earn her an unprecedented freedom or relegate her to irrevocable oblivion.

The Greenest Branch is the first in a two-book series based on the true story of Hildegard of Bingen, Germany’s first female physician and one of the few women to attain that position in medieval Europe. Set against the backdrop of the lush oak forests and sparkling rivers of the Rhineland, it is a tale of courage, strength, sacrifice, and love that will appeal to fans of Ken Follett, Umberto Eco, Elizabeth Chadwick, Margaret Frazer, Bernard Cornwell, Conn Iggulden, and to anyone who enjoys strong female protagonists in historical fiction.

314 pages, Paperback

First published June 18, 2018

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About the author

P.K. Adams

6 books54 followers
I am a Boston-based historical fiction author with a bachelor's degree from Columbia University and a master’s degree from Yale University. I am a life-long lover of history, and my goal is to bring stories of lesser-known historical figures and places to the attention of wider audiences. I have a blog where I share my writing journey, review historical fiction, host guest blogs from fellow authors in the genre, and advocate for making more non-famous women the subjects of historical novels. When not writing, I can be found drinking tea, practicing yoga, reading …. although usually not at the same time.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 85 reviews
Profile Image for English .
710 reviews
August 7, 2020
There were two things I enjoyed about this book: the historical details were one. Unlike many others, this novel does not fall prey to a lot of popular misconceptions about Medieval society and dwell upon the supposed nastiness of Medieval Europe. You know what I mean. Everyone supposedly being filthy, no table manners etc. This is closer to the reality, and shows 12th century people as quite sophisticated, which they were. The second was the writing style, which was engaging and quite easy to follow.

However, what annoyed me was the character of Hildegard. In the first part of the book she's a teenager, and she's so dratted arrogant. She thinks she knows better than everyone: the church fathers, and even the Bible included.

This isn't presented as simply teenage preciousness, it's affirmed by making out Hildgard near enough invented herbalism and introduced it to the church (Newsflash: she didn't). I dislike it when the hero/heroine in a novel has everything attributed to them as if they were some kind of superhero.

There are some misconceptions in terms of Medieval Medicine. The idea that they would have employed bloodletting as a treatment for someone who was bleeding and had already lost huge amount of blood is absurd. They were not THAT stupid. They know how to treat blood loss. I am beginning to think this is a modern trope done to enable the hero(ine) to save the day. Or we really do think they were that stupid.
It was also claimed that Medieval woman 'did not write books', with the implication that this was looked down on and the heroine was the first to do so. They'd clearly not heard of Anna Komnene or Dhouda then. Both women who wrote at least one book before Hildegard's time.

Finally, Hildegard's character was many times a prime example of imposing modern values and attitudes onto historical figures in fiction. Her idea that 'being a good person' (vaguely defined) was enough is thoroughly modern. It's frequently implied that the Medieval Church expected everyone to take everything on blind faith, considered reason to be evil, they didn't: they actually thought of it as 'the handmaiden of faith'.
Most inaccurate was the idea that they thought herbal remedies were the preserve of 'witches' and wise women. Again, wrong: there were books written on herbalism by clerics over a century before Hildegard's time. It was widely accepted by the Medieval church (seriously, watch Cadfael).

Also, the scene in which Hildegard has sex with one of the other novices, whilst not graphic, and her flimsy justification of it ('it felt so good it could not possibly be wrong') does not do her any favours. In fact, it does her a grave disservice. The real Hildegard von Bingen was an amazing women, she does not need to engage in casual sex to make her more interesting.

Things did improve a little towards the end, and the style of writing was enjoyable, but I really don't think this book does any favours this remarkable Medieval woman. There is a sequel, as I understand it and I might read that.

I purchased this book myself and did not receive it from any reviewing site or platforms.
Profile Image for Loretta.
Author 13 books97 followers
June 26, 2018
What an enjoyable book. On the whole, this is a quiet, thoughtful story about Hildegard of Bingen's early years. I think many people are fascinated by this woman and the author brings her to life well.

Hildegard is a rebel in many ways, refusing to accept the limitations laid on her by the Church because she is a woman. In the light of her own times, she shines like a beacon. Perhaps one of the earliest woman to defy the rules and prove women were not just for decoration, childbearing or prayer but could have an impact on the world around them.

Of course, she is one of the few women of this era whose life is well documented, but I like the way the author shows the growth in her life bringing in those details that make the girl who becomes the woman very human yet with a clear calling.

My attention was kept all the way through and I eagerly await book two.
Profile Image for C.P. Lesley.
Author 17 books77 followers
September 9, 2021
The twelfth-century German abbess Hildegard of Bingen was a remarkable woman by any standards. Known for her musical compositions and mystical prayers, Hildegard was also Germany’s first recognized female physician. The daughter of minor nobility, she entered the convent in childhood as a tithe from her parents. Excited by the prospect of acquiring an education, then a goal unattainable for girls outside a convent, Hildegard suffers a setback when she confronts the strict seclusion imposed on nuns by the anchorage of St. Disibod and its ascetic magistra, Jutta of Sponheim. But relief comes from the company of Volmar, a fellow oblate who like Hildegard loves to sneak out of the abbey and walk in the nearby woods, and Brother Wigbert, the monastery’s infirmarian. It’s through the teaching of Brother Wigbert that Hildegard discovers her affinity for medicine.

Alas, not every member of the abbey hierarchy believes that young women should spend time outside the walls of the anchorage, and as political threats from the outside world intensify and Hildegard’s detractors rise higher in the administration, she must fight for her right to practice medicine—and to express her opinion at all. In this charmingly personal account, P. K. Adams explores the first part of Hildegard’s life, the richly developed characters who influenced her, and the factors that gave her the strength to define her own dream and pursue it to fulfillment despite opposition from a society determined to keep her in her place.

Interview with the author at New Books in Historical Fiction.
Profile Image for Chrystyna Lucyk-Berger.
Author 19 books140 followers
September 10, 2019
I really wanted to love this book. Unfortunately, the quality distracted me so much from the story, I could not continue. The premise is great and yet it feels unpolished. I feel this book has great potential with more time to "getting it right". For me, the layering is missing, depth is missing, pacing is missing. It is really hard to write a review like this as I know how much effort it takes to write something and put it out into the world. However, "The Greenest Branch" feels far too "green" yet, far too raw, for me. :-( I am, however, going to give the second book a try. I'm still rooting for this author and this story.
Profile Image for Wendy Stanley.
Author 1 book12 followers
February 14, 2019
The Greenest Branch is a book to be savored. The pacing of this novel is gorgeous. Clean, clear, unhurried prose, each word adding to the story. The Greenest Branch is a novel of Germany's first female physician, Hildegard of Bingen. First brought to the Abbey of St. Disibod in 1115 as an unwilling (yet very special) child, over time, Hildegard begins to find her voice, develop her gift of healing, and wield her extraordinary personal power. The flow is so smooth that the reader forgets they are in the 1100s. Sometimes I thought I could hear the birds sing and watch the sun glow on the herbs. But this is no sleepy novel, because underneath the arc of Hildegard's interesting life at the abbey is the sinister beat of ambitious men who fear the power of an extraordinary woman. If you love history, and a story that is unusual (no kings or queens in this one), you'll love this book. Thanks to P.K. Adams for bringing another forgotten woman back to life.
10 reviews
January 12, 2021
Hildegard of Bingen cones alive in this well researched novel based on her life and the time she lived in. As the churches first female physician, she practically revolutionized medieval medicine.

I loved this novel! Starting so much earlier than other books I've read about her,this novel recounts her life from 10 years of age onwards. Filled with her enthusiasm for herbal medicine, women's role in monastic life and her enduring friendships and mentors that so enriched her life. Through her writings,original music and growing reputation we learn do much mire about her. Beautifully written,full if lyrical prose you will enjoy this treasure of a novel
Profile Image for K.M..
Author 11 books354 followers
July 31, 2018
Do I want to read a tale of Germany's first female physician? Yes please.

Hildegard von Bingen has had much written about her later life but not about her early childhood in the convent. Adams has taken what little is known and crafted an incredibly detailed and believable story.

What would a girl of the 12th century have done with an incurable thirst for knowledge? How could she succeed despite the oppression of a monastic life run by males? What would she miss? This novel attempts to answer those questions in a vivid setting, transporting the reader to St Disibod's with all its personalities and rituals.

The story is still relevant to women today, Hildegard having to prove herself as a healer time and again, despite great ability and knowledge.

Fans of Ken Follett or Connie Willis will like this book.
50 reviews
December 2, 2018
Enjoyed it very much, however much fiction and speculation was included by necessity. Shame there's no publishing date for the second part yet.
Profile Image for K Kriesel.
239 reviews18 followers
May 11, 2020
I made it halfway through the book and didn't really care to pick it up again. Hildegard is a Mary Sue, she's perfect and says/does exactly the right thing in every situation. I found it boring
Profile Image for Paula Butterfield.
Author 1 book12 followers
June 6, 2018
You might have heard of Hildegard von Bingen, the medieval abbess who produced theological writings as well as books about herbal medicine, who corresponded with church hierarchy and high-level political leaders. Perhaps you’ve read Mary Sharrott’s book, which focuses on Hildegard’s later life. Maybe you’ve seen the illuminations of her mystical visions, or heard her music, such as O Viridissima Virga or Ordo Virtutum (the first opera written by a woman). If you have encountered Hildegard, did you wonder how a woman who was cloistered from girlhood achieved so much? The Greenest Branch, by P. K. Adams, answers these questions as it covers the first twenty-five years of Hildegard’s life.
Hildegard is fortunate to have a mother who is unafraid to be outspoken when it is required, and clever enough to learn the healing properties of herbs from her childhood nurse. After being tithed to the church at ten years old and becoming an anchorite at the Abbey of St. Disibod, Hildegard has good reason to fear that she will never again learn more than Bible verses and hymns. But again, she is lucky enough to be taken as abbey infirmarian Brother Wigbert’s assistant and smart enough to build upon that position when he takes her under his wing and shares with her what he learned as a medical student.
Hildegard evolves a personal theology as she matures, based on the concept of veriditas—greenness, vitality, the life-giving force emanating from the breath of a loving and benevolent God. It’s a humane belief system that eschews extreme asceticism and celebrates humankind and nature in perfect co-existence. Her core belief is that “The world [is] a whole, every element connected, all infused with vital energy of creation.”
There are adversaries, of course. The character of Prior Helenger represents the repressive beliefs of the time in this exchange with the precocious Hildegard:
“It is the natural order of things…that women should rear children
since they are the gentler and more nurturing of the sexes.”
…I pondered this, frowning. “But if women are better at caring for
others, they should make better doctors, too, shouldn’t they?”
“It is the natural order of things,” he doctors too, shouldn’t they?”
This novel is packed with information about religious practices and the political intrigues of 12th century Europe, which we’ll need to understand as Hildegard takes her place on the world stage in the forthcoming second book of this two-book series. Yet the plot moves along at a sprightly pace. The author emphasizes a young woman’s determination to use her intelligence and talent while negotiating already-outmoded medical and religious practices, defending the abbey when it’s caught in a battle between the emperor and the archbishop, and struggling to resist a romantic figure who tempts Hildegard to leave the abbey.
I look forward to reading about the rest of Hildegard’s fascinating, unlikely life.
Profile Image for Andrea Fisher.
22 reviews2 followers
August 23, 2020
Interesting Perspective on a Fascinating Saint

St. Hildegarde of Bingen is a well-known and much revered saint in the Catholic Church. She is one of the few female saints considered "doctors" of the Church, whose teachings are considered exceedingly wise and worthy of study. This novel, although fiction (and exceedingly well-written fiction), presents an interesting perspective on Hildegarde's early life and experiences in the abbey. Lest anyone fear they might be undertaking to read a "religious" work, I hasten to add that there is really far less insight into Catholic Christian doctrine than you might expect, and what there is is related to specific characters in specific circumstances...necessary for the story, but no more than that. It is also specifically related from the author's perspective, and not necessarily the perspective of the Church itself. If you enjoy tales of powerful women, and of medieval settings, you will enjoy this well-researched and well-written story.
Profile Image for Viki.
108 reviews5 followers
July 1, 2022
3.5 stars Having grown up in the Catholic Church, I can relate to a lot of what I read here, especially how Hildegard was so inspired as a young girl. As we grow, and learn more about life, and people, and it’s so easy to become disillusioned.
But I enjoyed learning about her life in the Abbey, and learning about medicine in the 12th century.
Profile Image for Rosie Amber.
Author 0 books115 followers
June 18, 2018
The Greenest Branch is historical fiction set in medieval Germany. It is the first book in a series about the Benedictine abbess Hildegard. The story begins in 1115 when, as a child, Hildegard started her training at the convent of St Disibod. The Covent was in the grounds of an Abbey, with Abbot Juno having overall authority over both religious houses.

Hildegard had a natural flair for herbal medicines and a keen mind for politics, but she faced strong opposition to her academic hopes from the monastic powers. Under the tutelage of brother Wigbert, she was, however, allowed to work in the infirmary. She took over the herbal gardens and slowly gained respect for her work. See here for full review https://wp.me/p2Eu3u-buj
Profile Image for Kristen.
780 reviews45 followers
May 8, 2019
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In the early 12th century, a young girl was given as a tithe to the church with the intention that she would be enclosed as an anchoress at the abbey of Disibodenberg. That girl was Hildegard, known to history as Hildegard of Bingen. This novel tells the story of her early years at the abbey of Disibod and attempts to fill in a gap in the historical record.

Author PK Adams does a lovely job bringing a young Hildegard to life with her clear and elegant prose. The setting of the medieval Rhineland is well described and gives readers a vivid image of life during the Investiture Controversy. The conflicts brewing between the Church and secular authorities were complex and distressing to people at the time, and Adams captured these emotions plainly in her characters.

I have, at times, railed against authors of historical fiction who take liberties with historical fact for the sake of telling a story. I think if they can’t tell a good story without embellishing the facts then they aren’t good storytellers. However, Adams has found a sweet spot with regard to Hildegard’s story, and she’s run with it. Little is known about Hildegard’s life after she initially entered the abbey until Jutta’s death. Adams uses that gap in knowledge and creates a detailed and plausible version of her own, enhanced with excellent and accurate details of medieval life. We may not know about what Hildegard’s life was really like for a number of years, but this novel presents us with a viable option for consideration.

Adams wove in many lyrics from Hildegard’s songs, which was a nice touch. A vital touch, in my opinion. I don’t think one should write about Hildegard without including some of her songs, given that she wrote SO MANY of them. I do wish there had been more about herbology, such as recipes she might have used, but that’s just because I am super interested in herbalism. There was enough on that front to appeal to most readers who aren’t as interested as I am, I believe.

The characters are nicely developed overall. I would like more development with Helenger; right now, he just seems like the flat archvillain, mean just for the sake of being mean. I would also like more development with Volmar, particularly since he played such a large role in Hildegard’s real life. Maybe that will be in book two. The issue with Jutta and her bodily mortification left me a little wanting - I wanted to know more about Hildegard’s thoughts behind it. But overall, these were minor issues and didn’t impact my enjoyment of the book as a whole.

I am excited that I don’t have to wait to read the next in the series - thanks, Netgalley! It will be interesting to see how the next book handles the later parts of Hildegard’s much more well-documented life. Hopefully, Adams will continue Hildegard’s story with the same eye for detail as she has begun.
Profile Image for Jena Henry.
Author 3 books328 followers
June 4, 2018
900 years ago. What would it be like to go back to medieval times and see the towns and castles and how people lived? Do you imagine that it would be primitive and simple? What would it be like to follow a young girl of those times? Do you think that she would have had much of a life? Well, you can go back in time and see that world as if you were there, thanks to author P.K. Adams’ vivid and engaging story of Hildegard.

The Greenest Branch is the first in a two-book series based on the true story of Hildegard of Bingen, Germany’s first female physician and one of the few women to attain that position in medieval Europe. Readers, don’t worry about it being a two-book series. The first book is an engrossing and complete story and ends at a good point of closure. While I’m eager to read the second book, the first book was a beautiful experience and stands on its own.

Hildegard and her world are presented with eloquent word pictures. I was surprised that the world of the Rhineland and Europe was so sophisticated. By that time, early 1100’s, the Church and Emperors were well established, although feuding. Towns and trades, educational centers, and laws and the arts were all in place.

Opportunities for women were more in line with what I expected. Hildegard was the 10th child of well-off parents who loved her. Because she was the tenth, she was the “tithe” and was dedicated for Church work. She entered the Abbey of St. Disibod when she ten. The new Abbey was a stifling, strict place for a smart girl who loved nature but Hildegard’s natural abilities and her relationship with caring and educated church people helped her to grow and learn and create her own special vocation.

Hildegard tells her story in the first person which makes her seem so real. The writing style and voice is meditative and lyrical. Although there is detailed historical information, it is presented in a clear and readable way that makes the story flow with passion and excitement. Conflicts of theology and the rights of women are presented in a balanced and thoughtful way.

I highly recommend this book and I am looking forward to the second book in the series.
Profile Image for Sydney Avey.
Author 5 books23 followers
June 29, 2018
Much has been written, but little is known in popular culture about Hildegard of Bingen. P.K. Adams choice to write the polymathic saint’s life story under cover of historical fiction will do much to correct that oversight. Few individuals, men or women, have excelled in as many fields of knowledge as Hildegard. Even fewer have bridged natural science and spirituality.

The monastic life has always been shrouded in mystery, but in modern times we are largely ignorant of the role monasteries played in the High Middle Ages. Adams reveals the steps that Hildegard took—some calculated, some by grace alone—to position herself to improve the lives of women devoted to serving God and their neighbors with the fullness of their hearts, minds, and souls.

Adams shows us a Hildegard who demonstrates political awareness and diplomacy in measured amounts of humility and boldness. In “The Greenest Branch, Book One”, We watch Hildegard grow from a vulnerable young oblate to a tender-hearted but tough-minded magistra of her small order of nuns. During this time she studies Latin and medicine, writes music, and embarks upon a writing career. One senses at the end of book one that her story has barely begun.

Adams’ writing style is lively, which serves her character well. It appears that her debut novel is in digital format only. I understand the trend toward presenting stories as a series, but I hope one day there will be an option to purchase a print version of the complete story.

I look forward to Book Two.
Profile Image for Pat Brune.
162 reviews2 followers
May 20, 2020
I was riveted to this story about the life of Hildegard of Bingen, a real 12th Century nun cloistered (anchored) in a Benedictine monastery. I suppose it has to be categorized as "historical fiction" because details on Hildegard's life so many centuries ago are scarce. I would prefer to classify it as "embellished biography." However you characterize it, P.K. Adams does a fabulous job fleshing out the bare bones.

This could have been a dry, theological story but Adams' rendition had me riveted. I have always been interested in those dark and mysterious Medieval times and this story took me there. Among the topics featured are medicinal practices; social stations between men and women / rich and poor; and archaic religious practices such as self deprivation and flagellation. Hildegard manages to excel in spite of her status as a woman and a nun, the power of the Church, and dogmas along the lines of "men practice medicine but women practice witchcraft."

In the face of all odds Hildegard manages to study medicine and become Germany's first female physician. I love her for questioning practices of the church and medical treatments of the times. I cannot wait to read the sequel. Adams writes in such a polished way that you just want to keep reading.

There is no doubt I will read Part 2, The Column Burning Spices; and Silent Water, another historical Medieval fiction.

PS - thank you for the glossary.
Profile Image for Michael Ross.
Author 3 books85 followers
April 29, 2019
Intrigue, church politics, and carefully drawn characters draw one into this medieval coming of age tale. I was curious- Middle Ages is not my period of expertise, though quite familiar with Germany- the tale of Germany's first female physician led me to do my own research. Though the narrative moves somewhat slowly at times, P.K. Adams draws an ever deepening portrait of Hildegard and her tightrope walk to make progress for medicine, for women, and for the convent. Everything is from Hildegard's point of view, which may account for the pacing. The venal corruption of the medieval church is on display in all its ugliness, the concern with money, power, and false piety through mortification and enforced physical suffering. What is missing is any sense of a relationship to God or Jesus, which seems odd. Hildegard seems out for herself, her patients, and the convent.
Still, it is an engaging tale, and you will be glad to have read it.
Profile Image for ladywallingford.
443 reviews8 followers
February 14, 2023
I quite enjoyed this read although it took me a bit to get into. I found that Hildegard got much more interesting as she aged, became a doctor and ultimately head of her order. The author also included a historical note, which I always enjoy, but I wish it had been longer. I want to learn more about Hildegard now, and that, to me, is a hallmark of good historical fiction. I also liked how the author interspersed other well-known entities (Empress Matilda and her husband Emperor Heinrich, Bernard of Clairveaux to give some examples) from the period within the book in passing to give the novel more context.

The narrator wasn't bad either, but I have listened to better ones. Still, I would read/listen to the next one.
Profile Image for Helen Hollick.
Author 43 books505 followers
June 21, 2019
This book has received a Discovering Diamonds Review:
Helen Hollick
founder #DDRevs
"Little is known about Hildegard’s life after she initially entered the abbey until Jutta’s death. Adams uses that gap in knowledge and creates a detailed and plausible version of her own, enhanced with excellent and accurate details of medieval life"
Profile Image for Laura.
184 reviews
August 14, 2021
Hildegard of Bingen, or Hildegard von Bingen, was familiar to me before I listened to The Greenest Branch. I knew she was a nun and musician since I bought two CD's of her music twenty years ago. I had read a biography of her life at that time and learned she was a theologian, writer, scientist, a lover of nature and a herbal healer. She was a mystic and visionary. She felt that God talked to her and showed her what to do.

I was delighted to find this title on sale as an audible on Chirp. Of course I could not resist buying the sequel, The Column of Burning Spices, as well. You can also find these on Audible through Amazon.

The Greenest Branch covers the nun's early life in the 12th century. Upper class families were expected to give one daughter to the church to raise. Since women were expected to have one child a year, there was usually plenty of children in each family. Hildegard was sent to a convent as a child. The facts are not clear as to how old she was when she was first sent there. Perhaps she was 5 years old or as old as 13.

Adams used some artistic license to add some fictional events and to change the timeline of her life to some extent. This was not to my liking, since I would have wanted a more historical accounting of Hildegard's life. However, Adams did successfully show her strong influence in Germany and her struggles to fulfill what she felt was her calling from God. Hildegard was bold enough to interpret scripture and write to the king, the pope and other religious leaders.

There were always those who tried to interfere with her true calling. They resented her power and wanted her to be docile like most of the women at the time. Adams writes a good deal
about her effort to be treated seriously as a woman. These struggles have a parallel today in women's continual fight to gain equal rights with men.

In historical accounts of this period in history, Hildegard was said to have spent 30 years in a strict Benedictine convent. The author questions if that was the case, since she became such a dynamic, strong woman. On the other hand, perhaps her strong faith and the visions she had gave her that extraordinary strength to rise above her constricted circumstances.
Profile Image for K.M. Pohlkamp.
Author 4 books69 followers
September 29, 2018
I wish I had written this book and I can think of no higher praise. Every word of this book is beautiful. The phrasing, the description. P.K. Adams’ talent for writing is evident upon each page of this notable tale.

True to Hildegard’s life, this book has a slow and perhaps flat plot, but I appreciate the author’s honest recount of the physician’s life. At several points I wished Adams had turned up the tension just a bit more, especially with Hildegard’s potential love interest, but in the Author’s Note in the back, Adams admits such events were already heightened for the sake of the book. Life is often not a perfect story arc or action-packed and I respect the author’s choice to stay true to history. Most historical fiction fans will feel the same.

That being said, the antagonist in this book is Medieval German society and the prejudice Hildegard has to overcome to foster her gift. Adams strikes a fantastic balance in the voice of this novel. Hildegard’s frustration comes across but in balance with how a Sister would have honored the Church, its customs, and her superiors even if they often stand in her way. This is a story I easily related to as a female engineer: how sometimes you just want to scream, but swallow battle losses for the sake of the larger war.

I also loved how historical detail was woven perfectly into the plot. P.K. Adams subtly weaves in the details of how a medieval abbey functioned without a single line of “information dump.” Every detail from religious tradition to the medicinal use of herbs flows naturally from the narrator.

Hildegard would be honored to have her tale captured in such beautiful words and by a female author nonetheless. P.K. Adams has honored Hildegard’s memory and story in a exquisite novel I highly recommend. I can’t wait for part 2.
Author 1 book2 followers
June 24, 2018
The Greenest Branch is an engrossing historical novel set in the 1100’s about the early life of Hildegard of Bingen, Germany’s first female physician.

At the age of 10, Hildegard enters the cloister of the Abbey of St. Disibod, following an ancient custom of families’ tithing their tenth child to the church. Enclosure within the cloister means that Hildegard will never see her family again, but she possesses a deep faith and a strong intellect and is thrilled that, unlike other girls of marriageable age, she will be able to continue her education. She has already displayed a talent for the medicinal arts, taught to her by the family nurse, and she longs to become a physician.

Soon she is permitted to train in the abbey’s infirmary, where she develops her knowledge of the curing powers of herbs. As she grows older and more skilled, her ambition flies against the powers of the Church, which regards women who heal as practicing witchcraft. She encounters a powerful nemesis in Prior Helenger, who is determined to thwart her, despite St. Disibod’s growing wealthy from her skills at treating the infirm. The danger to Hildegard increases when she starts to write about theology, which the Church expressly forbids women from doing. Her writings attract the attention of Papal authorities, involving her in the conflicts between the Papacy and the Rhineland’s political leaders.

I highly recommend The Greenest Branch to readers of historical fiction, particularly those who enjoy reading about the medieval period. Fans of Elizabeth Chadwick, Ken Follett, Bernard Cornwell, Tony Riches, and Hilary Mantel will love this book.
Author 1 book2 followers
June 24, 2018
The Greenest Branch is an engrossing historical novel set in the 1100’s about the early life of Hildegard of Bingen, Germany’s first female physician.

At the age of 10, Hildegard enters the cloister of the Abbey of St. Disibod, following an ancient custom of families’ tithing their tenth child to the church. Enclosure within the cloister means that Hildegard will never see her family again, but she possesses a deep faith and a strong intellect and is thrilled that, unlike other girls of marriageable age, she will be able to continue her education. She has already displayed a talent for the medicinal arts, taught to her by the family nurse, and she longs to become a physician.

Soon she is permitted to train in the abbey’s infirmary, where she develops her knowledge of the curing powers of herbs. As she grows older and more skilled, her ambition flies against the powers of the Church, which regards women who heal as practicing witchcraft. She encounters a powerful nemesis in Prior Helenger, who is determined to thwart her, despite St. Disibod’s growing wealthy from her skills at treating the infirm. The danger to Hildegard increases when she starts to write about theology, which the Church expressly forbids women from doing. Her writings attract the attention of Papal authorities, involving her in the conflicts between the Papacy and the Rhineland’s political leaders.

I highly recommend The Greenest Branch to readers of historical fiction, particularly those who enjoy reading about the medieval period. Fans of Elizabeth Chadwick, Ken Follett, Bernard Cornwell, Tony Riches, and Hilary Mantel will love this book.
Profile Image for Nickie.
164 reviews
October 18, 2020
This is my second foray via historical novel of Hildegard of Bingen's life. Focusing on her talents and fight to become a physician in the 1100's in a Benedictine abbey, where she was an anchorite to begin with, from a young age, this is an interesting look into a far-off time and society. Once again, we are confronted with the Magistra Jutta, who believes firmly in denial and self-mortification, which, as a believer of God being a loving entity, Hildegard dismisses. Eventually, despite her self harm and deprivations, Jutta, on her deathbed, designates Hildegard as her successor, as she has felt that God particularly has chosen her for this duty.

Once again, we learn of Hildegard's innate ability to heal and her being drawn to nature and it's curative properties. She had to fight in a very subdued manner, as befit her place in the convent to be able to practice and hone her skills and did succeed admirably.

This novel takes us to the point where she has realized she can earn money to contribute to the abbey and to their convent in particular, by creating illuminated medical books and selling them to other infirmaries attached to other abbeys. She is preparing to create the potential for the convent to establish itself apart from the abbey, as she knows she will always have to fight aspects of it's governance to fulfill her vision of her own destiny.

These novels do focus on the medical aspect of Hildegard's multi-faceted achievements, she also wrote very moving music and chants that survive to this day as well as being politically adept in a time that such workings were categorically denied to women and these are also briefly highlighted.
7 reviews
September 9, 2021
Complete Dedication:

First of all, I absolutely enjoyed this book #1…there were minimal typos and that seems to be a rare treat with online books! #2 it was based on a live person and it appeared the author was very serious about her research material. The cloistered world of nuns in those years was not for the faint of heart. It required absolute dedication of mind, body and spirit. Women in those years carried minimal, if any, respect from men…including those of their peer group - monks, priors, abbots,etc. Building the story around an actual person - the author was able to give us a deep, inside look at life behind the walls. Ms Adams also covered a subject that many have chosen not to address - that of body mortification via self flagellation, as well as other methods. It has long been known that many male religious orders follow that practice but not many knew or believed that many women did the same and often, at more degrees of seriousness. Fascinatingly good book! Looking forward to the sequel!
Profile Image for Katherine Scott.
231 reviews1 follower
April 26, 2019
4.5 stars, rounded up. I didn't like this book so much when I started reading it. It wasn't Illuminations, by Mary Sharratt, another book about Hildegard of Bingen, that I absolutely adored. It bothered me that Adams' version of the early days as an anchoress differed so much from Sharratt's. Eventually, however, I got over the differences and just enjoyed the ride. It's a well told story, highlighting the early life of this remarkable woman. In this version, the spiritual aspects play second fiddle to the physical explanations. Instead of visions from God, Hildegard suffers from migraines which cause sensory anomalies. What is faithful is Adams' portrayal of a woman navigating a man's world with deference and discretion and success. The characters surrounding Hildegard are well drawn and the story is entertaining.
Profile Image for Kathryn Mattern.
Author 1 book8 followers
February 19, 2021
I enjoyed 'The Greenest Branch' so much, not least because I feel PK Adams has totally captured the sweet, fresh, life-affirming spirit of Hildegard in the novel, and created a picture of what her early life very well may have been like. I loved the relationship with Wigbert, the Infirmarian, her inner associations with the herb room at home, Uda, etc, and the 'special connection' with Volmar seems plausible too, given the bond of their relationship as we know it through history. All the relationships, the politics of the monastery, the culture of the convent, etc, seemed to me to ring true. I liked how the narrative brought in snippets of information about the church, the history and lifestyles of the time, Augustine, etc. and yet also presented an alternative picture of how it could be - and how it was with Hildegarde as magistra!

Profile Image for Rhonda.
115 reviews3 followers
September 27, 2021
One of the most inspirational women of history

Hildegard of Bingen was destined for the church as her parents had promised 1/10th of their fortune to be given to God. Since Hildegard was their tenth child she would be entered into holy orders rather than raised to be given in marriage as most daughters of nobility were during medieval times. This is the second historical novel of her life that I have read. Although I was raised in a Protestant home, her Catholic sensibilities, impressed me. As did her struggles to ensure her freedom to be a healer and to incorporate body and soul into a healthy whole for her patients. Whether you read about Hildegard for religious, feminist or historical knowledge, you will find yourself fascinated and enriched by getting to know her.

Profile Image for Nancy.
790 reviews2 followers
February 17, 2022
I had heard of Hildegard of Bingen only once, in an audible original Great Courses audiobook about significant women of the medieval world. This fictionalized history of her early life introduced me to the world of women at this time.

The author, P.K. Adams, offers a disclaimer before beginning her narrative of Hildegard, informing her readers that there is little documentation of this period of her life. She makes it clear that she used her knowledge of Hildegard's known later life, as well as her background understanding of monastic practices, at this time and place, to create a plausible beginning to this accomplished woman's life. I knew from the beginning that I was reading fiction in this novel. Understanding that, made Adams' work authentic even though it may not have happened this way at all..

The entire story of Hildegard of Bingen is presented in two books. I plan to listen to part 2, The Column of Burning as well. This is a woman worth knowing about...
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