Skillfully weaving historical fact with psychological insight and vivid imagination, Illuminations brings to life one of the most extraordinary women of the Middle Ages: Hildegard von Bingen, Benedictine abbess, visionary, and polymath.
Offered to the Church at the age of eight, Hildegard was expected to live in silent submission as the handmaiden of a renowned, disturbed young nun, Jutta von Sponheim. But Hildegard rejected Jutta's masochistic piety, rejoicing in her own secret visions of the divine. When Jutta died, Hildegard broke out of her prison, answering the heavenly call to speak and write about her visions and to liberate her sisters. Riveting and utterly unforgettable, Illuminations is a deeply moving portrayal of a woman willing to risk everything for what she believed.
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Mariner Books | October 15, 2013 (Paperback) | 288 pages
- Mary Sharratt's latest novel, Illuminations, tells of the life of Catholic Saint Hildegard von Bingen, who is best known for her visions, writings and music. Hildegard lived in Germany during the 12th century, joining the church at a young age and serving as an anchorite and magistra.
- One of the things I like most about historical fiction is that it can introduce readers to historical figures, time periods and events they would otherwise be unfamiliar with. Prior to reading this novel I knew nothing of Hildegard von Bingen. As Sharratt clearly illustrates in the book, Hildegard was a fascinating woman and I enjoyed learning about her life.
- The prose in Illuminations is lovely, and one of the greatest strengths of this novel is Sharratt's ability to make even the most mundane of things interesting to the reader. Hildegard was an anchorite for several years, living in a small cell in the monastery of Disibodenberg with only one other nun -- Jutta of Sponheim -- for company. While life as an anchorite wouldn't seem, on the surface at least, to serve as compelling narrative, Sharratt is able to keep the reader fully engaged with the story throughout this portion of the novel. Ultimately, I thought the anchorite-era of Hildegard's life to be one of the most fascinating aspects of the book.
- While Hildegard is the star of Illuminations, Sharratt does a good job developing the novel's secondary characters, Jutta of Sponheim, Brother Volmar and Richardis von Stade. I especially enjoyed Hildegard's relationship with Brother Volmar, who was a steadfast friend to Hildegard for most of her life.
- One of the other aspects of this novel I enjoyed was the references to the church customs and traditions of Hildegard's age, especially as they relate to the Benedictine order to which Hildegard belonged. I think this helps readers gain a better appreciation for religious life during the 12th century.
- As one of the things Hildegard is best known for are her visions, I would have liked the narrative to have focused on them a little more. Although Hildegard has visions at several times throughout Illuminations, I admit that I wasn't always sure what they meant and why she was revered for them. Additional detail would have helped.
- Overall, Illuminations is a great book, and I heartily recommend it to all fans of medieval-era historical fiction.
Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars
Source: I received a copy from the publisher as a participant in the Illuminations Virtual Book Tour in exchange for a fair and honest review.
Illuminations is currently on tour with Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours. Click here to check out the full tour schedule.
About the Author
The author of four critically acclaimed historical novels, Mary Sharratt is an American who lives in the Pendle region of Lancashire, England, the setting for her acclaimed Daughters of the Witching Hill, which recasts the Pendle Witches of 1612 in their historical context as cunning folk and healers. She also lived for twelve years in Germany, which, along with her interest in sacred music and herbal medicine, inspired her to write Illuminations: A Novel of Hildegard von Bingen. Illuminations won the Nautilus Gold Award for Better Books for a Better World and was selected as a Kirkus Book of the Year.
For more information please visit Mary's website and blog. You can also find her on Facebook and Twitter.
I'm pleased to host a giveaway for one copy of Illuminations. Giveaway details are as follows:
- This giveaway is open internationally;
- To enter, simply leave a comment below with your email address;
- The contest will run until midnight (EST) on November 3, 2013; and
- The winner will be selected using random.org.