I thoroughly enjoyed this journey to 13th century France and I’m glad to have experienced it through a book and not in person! And for those who are “listeners,” the readers on the audiobook, Jayne Entwistle, Allan Corduner and Fiona Hardingham were absolutely amazing.
The tale is told by three narrators: Botille, one of three orphaned sisters who traveled around the countryside stealing food until they found a tavern to run in a small town; Dolssa, a gentlewoman who is a devout Catholic and a healer who can work miracles; and Friar Lucien who accuses Dolssa of being a heretic and is determined to have her burned at the stake.
Julie Berry did plenty of research to make Provensa (Provence, France) come alive. She even includes a glossary with Old Provencal words that are used throughout the story, a bibliography and additional historical information about the time period. I was even inspired to find more information about the Albigensian Crusade once I finished the book.
The story starts out with a monk telling us he is writing the following story to get to the bottom of things and to find out the truth. He is relying on eye witness accounts as well as written accounts to try to piece together the story.
From there we meet Dolssa, around whom the action of the story revolves. Dolssa is a devout Catholic who is passionate about her beloved “Senhour Jhesus”. She speaks openly about her beloved and is able to heal the sick. Once Friar Lucien hears about her and her miracles, both Dolssa and her mother are sentenced to death as heretics. Her mother is burned at the stake but Dolssa escapes.
Next we meet Botille, a good-hearted and kind girl with a lot of spunk and courage. Once the sisters settle down in their new town, Botille becomes a matchmaker, her younger sister becomes a fortune-teller (and is amazingly accurate) and her eldest sister brews the ale for the tavern. While on her way back from summoning the nephews of the local vineyard owner, Botille comes across Dolssa, nearly dead by a river. The sisters take Dolssa in and nurse her back to health. Only later do the sisters learn that Dolssa is being hunted down by Friar Lucien. The town, which has experienced and benefitted from Dolssa’s healing and miracles must decide whether or not to hide and protect Dolssa and risk their own lives or to save themselves by turning Dolssa over to the Friar.
The Passion of Dolssa has a little bit of everything in just the right amounts: adventure, romance, great story-telling, humor, tragedy, suspense, superb world building, history, bravery and treachery and, best of all, unique and fully developed characters. I highly recommend the book but even more so the audiobook!