I’ve had The Nameless Day by Sara Douglass on my shelf for a while, but I haven’t read up until now. Not sure what made me pick it up this time, but I’m glad I did. According to the introduction, this novel takes place in a world that’s pretty much like ours–except the historical events are somewhat compressed. But isn’t that kind of true of just about every historical novel? I’m not totally sure why the intro was included, actually. At any rate, the plot of this story is set against the background of the Hundred Years’ War and the beginnings of the Wars of the Roses.
The protagonist, Thomas Neville, is involved in a war between Good and Evil, angels and demons, and he has no idea what he’s doing. The person he inherited the fight from died thirty years before he got involved, during the Black Death. There are demons crawling all over Europe. Wat Tyler, John Wycliffe, and John Ball are spreading “dangerous” ideas of social change and Reformation. The English and the French have just fought the Battle of Poitiers (see Hundred Years’ War). And Thomas, a Dominican friar, starts seeing visions of St. Michael. (He’s not the only one. Joan of Arc is also starting her adventure.) Because is this is the first book in one of those trilogies, this is just the beginning of the story and nothing much is resolved.
But after the first couple of chapters, after I decided that this wasn’t Christian fiction in disguise, I was hooked. So hooked, in fact, that I’m having a hard time waiting for the library to be open tomorrow. I want to head down to the Barnes and Noble and get the next two books in the series.
What kept me hooked on this story was how incredibly vivid Douglass made the Europe of the 1340s and 1370s. I know my history (pretty much), but surprisingly, this book brought home the mindset. I knew the people of the time were raised to believe in the Catholic Church, that heaven was their reward for a life of suffering, that challenges to feudalism were an affront to God and the natural order of things, women were born to suffer and atone for Eve’s sin, etc. etc. But this book really helped me understand what that meant. And now I think I really understand the Reformation.
One of the things I really enjoyed about this book was when some one like Tyler or Wycliffe got to talk about the changes they thought their society needed, things like an end to the feudal system, translating the Bible into languages that people actually spoke, not needing priests in order to read the Bible for themselves, the Catholic Church surrendering a lot of its worldly wealth and get back to its original mission of tending to the spiritual health of the population. (Etc. etc.) As I read, I remember thinking, hey, this stuff makes sense to me. If I had lived at the time, I probably world have jumped on the band wagon, too. (Though if my medieval self had any foresight, she wouldn’t jump on the band wagon until after 1517, and she wouldn’t do it in France, Italy, or Spain. Especially, not Spain.)
All of this made it hard to be sympathetic to the main character, Thomas, who defends the status quo at just about every opportunity. As the story progresses, though, and as Thomas sees more of the way things really are, he softens and starts to see the other side’s point of view. While he’s no where near ready to join the revolution, he starts to realize that the old order is wrong, too. Very intriguing read.
And now, I’m off to see if the Barnes and Noble is still open.