Stormbringers by Philippa Gregory

Philippa Gregory has long been renowned as the undisputed queen of historical fiction, but her recent works have left me a little disappointed, and in my opinion don’t live up to the brilliance of her earlier novels (in particular Wideacre and The Other Boleyn Girl). Gregory’s recent foray into young adult fiction has been well acclaimed however, so I was eager to see whether it would live up to reviews.

Stormbringers is the second in a series of four books, the Order of Darkness series. There was no mention as to what had happened in the previous novel, so despite not having read it, there was none of the added confusion of dealing with constant references to the prequel. The character’s histories and relationships were briefly explained, but no details were given as to the context of their story.

The novel is set in fifteenth-century Italy, and follows four young travellers. Luca is a novice monk accompanied by his servant Frieze, Lady Isolde, and her servant Ishraq. Not much information is given as to why or where they are travelling; perhaps this is dealt with in the first book? However, their journey is interrupted with the uprising of an unusual religious crusade that places them all in extreme danger.

I found the novel very hard to get stuck into. It was incredibly slow to start, and this didn’t really improve as the story progressed. The characters were all rather bland and boring, and had very little substance. This made them confusing at times, and not particularly likeable or identifiable with. There was absolutely no character development at all, something which would have really helped to establish the character’s rather confusing relationships with each other. With two male, and two female characters, there were two friendships and two romantic relationships. However, towards the end of the novel this suddenly became a very confusing love triangle, with almost no explanation as to how or why this came about.

In terms of historical context, very little attempt was made to link the story in with significant events of the period. However, one aspect which did feature, and which I enjoyed was the emphasis on the importance of religion. Gregory demonstrated excellently the fifteenth century idea that everything was an act of or sign from God, and that science and knowledge had little standing in such a religious world. Apart from this, the novel could easily have been set in a fantasy setting, as there was very little reference to the goings on of the world outside of the story.

The prose was simplistic enough to be an easy read, but not at all challenging for the more advanced young adult reader. The dialogue was slow and uninspiring, and the writing slow-paced and unimaginative, lacking the vivid, descriptive prose and incredible attention to historical detail evident in Gregory’s earlier works. I wouldn’t recommend this book to someone looking for historical detail and intellectual stimulation, but if you’re on the hunt for an easy read, perhaps for a holiday or sick day, then it might be worth checking out.

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