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By Dana Chamblee Carpenter
Release date: November 16, 2015
Historical fiction novels tend to cherrypick through the vast archives of Great Britain and its famous legacy of royalty. Bohemian Gospel, the debut novel from short-story writer Dana Chamblee Carpenter, forgoes the typical British storyline and instead brings us to 13th century Bohemia near the start of the reign of Ottokar II, the Iron and Golden King, for a supernatural tale of intrigue, royal betrayal, and dark powers.
The novel takes off right from the start, with the young King Ottakar wounded and near death from an assassination attempt, with his men racing him to the nearby Tepla Abbey where a young girl named Mouse miraculously saves him. But Mouse is no ordinary healer. An orphan raised from birth at the monastery and trained in the healing arts, the teenager has certain abilities that far surpass what a normal person can do. It is a gift — or, possibly a curse — where she innately knows not only how to save lives, but also how to commune with animals, will things to happen, and remember everything she reads or experiences, including her own birth.
Mouse must hide these extraordinary abilities from those around her, lest she be considered a witch, but her fellow oblates have their suspicions about her. Thankfully, while at the Tepla, Mouse has been under the protection of its Abbot, Father Lucas, who’s always referred to her as “andilek,” an angel, though the well-intentioned, kindhearted girl is unsure whether she’s truly an angel or an instrument of evil.
After the young king survives, he becomes enamored with Mouse, insisting that his savior accompany him back to court at Prague to personally attend to his recovery. Though Mouse is drawn to the young king, she fears the repercussions of her gift, especially since there’s aspects of it she can’t control. She knows that life outside the walls of the abbey can be dangerous, not only for herself, but for those around her.
Though Bohemian Gospel is a fast-paced read, Carpenter slowly unveils Mouse’s gifts throughout the first half of the book — it’s not the kind of story that has the protagonist waving a magic wand. There were events that happened in the book that at first I didn’t even realize were in her control. There is much to learn about Mouse, and much for the young girl to discover about herself, including her family history and the origins of her powers.
Mouse’s journey to self-discovery is an interesting one, and the story gets more and more compelling each time she calls upon a power she didn’t even know she had. And then when the consequences from altering fate become clear, things get very frightening.
The reader gets very drawn in by the events of Bohemian Gospel; the storylines are not as simplistic as those of other novels in the genre that tend to lean more toward the romantic aspects, though there is the connection between Mouse and Ottakar for those who enjoy a love story. At times, I felt it veered into Game Of Thrones territory, especially during a sequence when Ottakar’s father returns to the palace, as well as another part where Mouse and Father Lucas try to thwart evil. The horrors presented are not done so excessively, but are described in such a way to be vividly detailed — basically, you will remember them. I also found it interesting that when characters suffer a trauma, they don’t just bounce back as if nothing ever happened. No one here is merely languishing from sadness; the women don’t suffer from hysterics; the men don’t soldier on after they’ve been gravely wounded.
Bohemian Gospel presents an intriguing, likable new lead character in a fresh setting, and interweaves historical, magical, and biblical elements into a royal politics storyline that keeps the reader interested and invested.
Set against the historical reign of the Golden and Iron King, Bohemian Gospel is the remarkable tale of a bold and unusual girl on a quest to uncover her past and define her destiny.
Thirteenth-century Bohemia is a dangerous place for a girl, especially one as odd as Mouse, born with unnatural senses and an uncanny intellect. Some call her a witch. Others call her an angel. Even Mouse doesn’t know who―or what―she is. But she means to find out.
When young King Ottakar shows up at the Abbey wounded by a traitor’s arrow, Mouse breaks church law to save him and then agrees to accompany him back to Prague as his personal healer. Caught in the undertow of court politics at the castle, Ottakar and Mouse find themselves drawn to each other as they work to uncover the threat against him and to unravel the mystery of her past. But when Mouse’s unusual gifts give rise to a violence and strength that surprise everyone―especially herself―she is forced to ask herself: Will she be prepared for the future that awaits her?
A heart-thumping, highly original tale in the vein of Elizabeth Kostova’s The Historian, Bohemian Gospel heralds the arrival of a fresh new voice for historical fiction.
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