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The Illuminator [Reading] ➭ The Illuminator ➵ Brenda Rickman Vantrease – Natus-physiotherapy.co.uk 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 earli 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 paintings Finn is a master illuminator who works not only for the Church but also, in secret, for John Wycliffe of Oxford, who professes the radical idea that the Bible should be translated into English for everyone to read Finn has another secret as well, one that leads him into danger when he meets Lady Kathryn of Blackingham Manor, a widow struggling to protect her inheritance from the depredations of Church and Crown alike Finn s alliance with Lady Kathryn will take us to the heart of what Barbara Tuchman once called the calamitous fourteenth century Richly detailed and irresistibly compelling, Brenda Rickman Vantrease s The Illuminator is a glorious story of love, art, religion, and treachery at an extraordinary turning point in history.


10 thoughts on “The Illuminator

  1. C.W. C.W. says:

    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.Vantrese s 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.Vantrese s strengths lie in her superb grasp of the era as seen through her various characters and her understanding of the depth and complexity of spirituality to people striving to overcome everyday suffering This is not your average romanticized or sanitized historical recreation Vantrese has crafted an astonishing tale whose utter lack of anachronism will transport the reader to a time both fascinating and repellent in its contradictions Superb and uncompromising, THE ILLUMINATOR is destined to become a classic in the genre


  2. Carina Carina says:

    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 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 medieval tale with those, and found that The Illuminator fell well short of its potential


  3. Rachel Rachel says:

    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 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 14th century England I do not require a novel to be full of characters who make perfect choices that would hardly make for interesting reading but the best characters are those with realistic flaws who are engaged in a struggle be that a struggle for redemption, understanding, or even greed or power The characters in The Illuminator had vices that seemed designed for the sole purpose of constructing a medieval boddice ripper with little redeeming value So yes, I do not recommend this book Marginal writing, melodramatic charactersnot good enough for me to finish I will typically give a book a good third of its length to persuade me to finish After that, all bets are off There are just too many great books out there for me to waste my time


  4. Athena Athena says:

    Readable, with flaws I think this became so popular in the US because the 14th century isn t taught here any except plague below upper level college history coursesThe Illuminatoris 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 plo Readable, with flaws I think this became so popular in the US because the 14th century isn t taught here any except plague below upper level college history coursesThe Illuminatoris 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 gets increasingly contrived Not 14th c., but better social historical fiction is available Roberta Gellis classic Roselynde, while it has obligatory romance elements as it was originally published under Romance, is excellent, readable 12th 13th C historical fiction, as is any of Ellis Peters s 11th C Cadfael murder mysteries Vantrease s presentation of historical events is mostly accurate as is her very general depiction of manorial, craftsman and ecclesiastical lives during the period with some notable exceptions The shilling coin didn t exist in the 14th C first milled 1503 and a few other oopsies, but farimportantly, Kathryn of Blackingham has no overlord to whom her manor is beholden Wrong In feudal society everyone had a generally available master with whom they had a reciprocal arrangement, except the budding craftsman class Finn, the Illuminator in particular a small hold manor always had an overlord The lack of a feudal overlord for Blackingham seems a deliberate omission to make Kathryn that muchvulnerable, furthering plot contrivances It didn t jar me out of the story, although it niggled a LOT and made the story increasingly artificial as it unfolded In reality, Blackingham Manor would have an overlord to whom Kathryn could turn and to whom she owed obedience the feudal contract a small manor house would seldom have been a direct fief of the king although a few lines to that effect would have gone a long way to covering this whopping error view spoiler Kathryn should have been able to appeal to her overlord to replace her difficult steward, Simpson, and her overlord or his overlord would have had near total authority on whom she married, potentially negating the menace Sir Guy brings to the story but maybe making it evenmalignant hide spoiler Aexperienced writer would ve worked an evil distant impervious overlord into the plot my wee little American brain really can handlethan one lordly Sir per novel Kathryn herself is a difficult and prickly character who makes a lot of bad decisions, sometimes illogically furthering the story Finn, the Illuminator of the title, could come from an historical romance and be named Mary Sue Vantrease s supporting characters are farreal, andinteresting Half Tom the fen dwelling dwarf, simple Magda, and the fictionalized but real Anchoress Julian of Norwich These supporting characters are what took me to the end of the book, even though their subplots were predictable I ve read that these characters worked their way into the story, telling me that the author would do better to veer from her plot outlines and trust her writerly instincts in future There s an overabundance of evil churchmen until we need a, wait for it, saintly church woman the Anchoress, the Abbess we get it, the male Church was corrupt and invasive and apparently there wasn t a decent man in it view spoiler The pointless scene where a priest kills a cat is simply egregious, she d already hammered home her point hide spoiler Unfortunately, Vantrease tends to paint with a roller when a small brush would ve done a better job.There are several plot threads through this novel, including a murder mystery which causes serious plot repercussions unfortunately there was an obvious candidate for murderer I kept wondering why Kathryn never thought of it I can t imagine someone that oblivious being a good manager of the manor, as she is otherwise portrayed.Her almost adult twin sons, Colin Alfred, are both flat characters and again Kathryn seems too intelligent to have dealt so badly with both of them, in addition to the ahistorical elements around them view spoiler no matter how childlike Colin and Rose appeared they were past puberty and in the 14th c would never have been allowed so much unchaperoned time together, also, Alfred would have been affianced by the time he was 15 as he was heir to a manor such arrangements happened young but any relation to another manor would have given Kathryn a potential ally and left her less vulnerable so it s just not there hide spoiler.Taken as a whole it s not a bad first novel but it s certainly not as terrific as the many, many blurbs make out, and it doesn t seem to have been the huge hit in the UK that it was in the US I originally thought I might like to read the 2nd novel, but I ll give it a miss this one wasn t that great


  5. Sarah Mac Sarah Mac says:

    Too much As You Know, Bob combined with repetitive conversations about the mundane minutiae of these cardboard, one dimensional characters lives They d discuss something Rehash it Then move into a NEW conversation with another character who wasn t in the first scene rehash it yet again, only to reach literally THE SAME CONCLUSION This happened multiple times each one pissed me offthan the last esp because Kathryn wouldn t stfu her whining martyr routine I made it through Too much As You Know, Bob combined with repetitive conversations about the mundane minutiae of these cardboard, one dimensional characters lives They d discuss something Rehash it Then move into a NEW conversation with another character who wasn t in the first scene rehash it yet again, only to reach literally THE SAME CONCLUSION This happened multiple times each one pissed me offthan the last esp because Kathryn wouldn t stfu her whining martyr routine I made it through roughly 100 pgs before abandoning ship Several reviews harp on the book improving at some nebulous point midway through, but I couldn t care less This isn t a 900 page epic If your 400 pg novel needsthan 25% to reach a higher gear of better plot, better pace, or better interaction, you should have started the meat potatoes sooner A standard length novel shouldn t take that long to hook the reader. DNF


  6. CatarinaG CatarinaG says:

    Review from ceruleana Manhattan, NY at .uk 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 Review from ceruleana Manhattan, NY at .uk 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 Philip the Fair of France seriously quarreled, to put it mildly, about Church tithing and taxation Finally, Boniface declared the primacy of the Church over secular authorities, the superiority of Popes over kings Ultimately this resulted in two Popes, one in France and one in Rome The Church, which had tremendous power in England, wanted to acquirewealth through tithing The monarchy wished to tax the Church s considerable property, and institute an additional poll tax on the people As always, the poor were penalized most Almost a century before, in 1297, a mob of villagers and serfs burned out a group of Benedictine monks who withheld spiritual services, including the Eucharist, pending offerings they could not afford Now the peasants were ready to revolt against the latest tax approved by John of Gaunt In Oxford, English theologian and reformer John Wycliffe criticized the Church s abuses and false teachings As the novel begins, he is working on an English translation of the Bible the first European translation done in over 1,000 years Since the printing press had not been invented yet, only the wealthy had access to the hand printed, beautifully illuminated copies of the Bible The Word was written in Latin, or in Norman French, and the poor, and most women of all classes, did not study languages nor could they read Wycliffe, backed by John of Gaunt, believed that everyone should have access to Holy Scripture that God is not something the clergy had a right to keep for their exclusive use These beliefs were considered heretic As the author, Brenda Rickman Vantrease stresses, heresy was not the real issue here the acquisition of power and wealth were This was purely a matter of alliances and appearances, and of mass political and spiritual oppression Finn, a master illuminator, works for the Church, decorating hand written pages of scripture with gloriously painted miniature works of art He is presently illuminating writings of the apostle John for the powerful Abbott of Broomholm Finn is also secretly employed by Wycliffe, whom he does not charge, to illustrate his English translation One of the Broomholm Abbey svenal priests pressures Lady Kathryn of Blackingham Manor to give the artist and his daughter lodgings She is afraid of the consequences if she does not agree Recently widowed, with twin fifteen year old sons to support, as well as her serfs and villagers, Lady Katheryn has little money left to give to the Church, let alone to feed and clothe her family, and pay taxes and tithes Fearing for her sons inheritance, she makes a place at her manor for Finn and his daughter Her decision to do so will change the course of her life, and the lives of all who depend on her This is a richly textured novel, filled with a multitude of colorful images, sounds, smells, events, and human stories which portray the pageantry and the cruelty of English life in the Middle Ages The narrative also homes in on one particular noble family, and their dependents, illustrating the workings of feudal life up close and personal Ms Vantrease explores, through her narrative, the feudal system with an emphasis on the roles of various members of medieval society and their place in the social hierarchy She also looks at the role of religion and that of the Church, as well as man s greed for wealth and the acquisition of personal power There are also wonderful descriptions of the illuminating process The Illuminator is peopled with a resplendent cast of characters and their interactions with family, friends, lovers, servants, and enemies, are revealed in the narrative Obviously, there s Finn the Illuminator, and his lovely young Rose Lady Katheryn her twin sons Colin and Alfred Half Tom, a dwarf and a hero Hugh Despenser, the greedy, corrupt Bishop of Norwich Sir Guy de Montaigne, the Sheriff of Norwich, who is intent on marrying Katheryn for her land Julian of Norwich, an anchoress filled with love and compassion, who has dedicated her life to God and to reveal Him to those who seek her out the evil overlord Simpson John Ball a charismatic peasant priest who preaches for ecclesiastical poverty and social equality for clergy and so many others The author really brings these individuals to life on the page, with all their foibles and complexities she illuminates them


  7. Robyn Robyn says:

    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 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 historical romances you re in for a treat However, for whatever reason, this book just didn t thrill me Despite the hero and heroine s plight, I never felt any real tension or urgency There was a lot here that could have been a lotexciting, but the author s understated style plays it down, which I felt was to it s detriment This is an alright read, but it lacked a special something to make it really pop


  8. Katie Ann Katie Ann says:

    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.


  9. Christy English Christy English says:

    I loved this booksuch 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.


  10. Monica Hills Monica Hills says:

    This was an interesting novel about medieval Europe in the 14th century The cover really drew me to the book Lady Katherine resides over her manor Her husband has died and she has twin sons who are coming into their manhood Lady Katherine is having difficulty keeping her manor running when she receives a proposition to house an illuminator and his daughter What unfolds is a little mystery, romance and a little history Overall not a bad medieval read.


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