Original Year of Publication: 2007
HardbackPage Count: 422
Genre: Historical Fiction
Brand new author for me.
Summary: Living in fifteenth century Prague, young Anna carves a living illuminating books with her grandfather, Finn. With the Catholic Church hunting down possessors of the Wycliffe Bible--followers of the "heretic" Jan Hus--Anna and Finn are constantly in danger--a danger that only becomes more real when Martin, Anna's love, is murdered by the Church's henchmen. On his deathbed, Finn tells Anna to leave Prague for England, in order to stay safe. After a brief stay with a band of gypsies, Anna is forced to set up shop in France, posing as a widow--and meeting VanCleve, a young merchant. What she doesn't know is that VanCleve is truly Friar Gabriel, a priest sent to spy on Lord John Oldcastle. And what Friar Gabriel doesn't know is that Anna will soon have him doubting his vows.
I'll say in advance that I am not all too familiar with this century of history. What I read deifnitely sounded accurate, but I can't be positively sure.
The Mercy Seller was a real eye-opener for me. I knew that Protestants in Europe were persecuted, but I never truly realized exactly what the Church was doing. Anna's sparring over religion with Gabriel was personally, one of the best parts of the book for me, and I wish there was more of it. However, I will note that she seemed a bit too obvious for somebody who was supposed to be hiding her Protestant synmpathies. You would think that she would be more careful about trusting a man she barely knew, attracted to him or not.
Catholics probably won't be big fans of The Mercy Seller; it paints a brutally honest portrait, despite the fact that two of the main characters are, at least for the majority of the book, devout Catholics themselves. The persecution does ring true, but I kind of wish that the Catholic characters could have been a bit rounder--and that's coming from a Presbyterian reader! There was the stereotypical evil archbishop, the priest with illegitimate children (there were a couple of those, actually) and the nun with a bunch of secrets. Been there, read that, want better. Anna had her own moments of flatness, as well.
I would also like to point out that this does not fall into the "inspirational Christian" genre, or the "historical romance" genre. There is romance, and there is faith, but not too much of it. This book is definitely historical fiction--I walked away from it feeling as if I, at the least, learned something. The sex scenes are fine for the faint of heart, too, and the romance is actually a bit more realistic than I expected.
I do wish that Vantrease had developed the relationship between Gabriel and Anna a bit more. They fell in love rather quickly, though I liked how Anna did not immediately bounce back to trusting him after his secret was revealed. Similarly, I wanted more of an explanation as to how Mother Kathryn was related to Anna. It was kind of confusing.
But for all of the book's faults, it is a good read. I wouldn't say that it could cross genres; it is what it is. But all the same, it's good historical fiction.
Four out of Five Stars: But only if it's read entirely on a historical fiction basis. There's a good story in here, likable characters, but nothing you'll remember for the rest of your life. It's a library check-out, not a buy. However, if you're interested in the fourteenth century--or Catholic-Protestant conflict, for that matter--you'll be sure to learn something. Every character has a secret in The Mercy Seller, to the point of busyness. But overall, I wouldn't say that it's difficult to keep up with, or dragging. A good book, but not a great book; likable, but not lovable.
Similar Books: Anything by Robin Maxwell.
Also by this Author: The Illuminator. I haven't read it.
Up Next: The Virgin Blue by Tracey Chevalier.