Friday, May 27, 2016

The Passion of Dolssa by Julie Berry

The Passion of Dolssa
by Julie Berry

Read: April 15 - May 9, 2016
Published: April 12, 2016 by Viking Books for Young Readers
Source: Galley from publisher (Thank You, Penguin!)
Category: YA, historical fiction, France, Spain, Middle Ages

Dolssa is a young gentlewoman with uncanny gifts, on the run from an obsessed friar determined to burn her as a heretic for the passion she refuses to tame.

Botille is a wily and charismatic peasant, a matchmaker running a tavern with her two sisters in a tiny seaside town.

The year is 1241; the place, Provensa, what we now call Provence, France—a land still reeling from the bloody crusades waged there by the Catholic Church and its northern French armies.

When the matchmaker finds the mystic near death by a riverside, Botille takes Dolssa in and discovers the girl’s extraordinary healing power. But as the vengeful Friar Lucien hunts down his heretic, the two girls find themselves putting an entire village at the mercy of murderers.

The Passion of Dolssa is one of those stories with a quiet impact that slowly builds as you read it, until you're eventually and unexpectedly slapped with how amazing it is. I enjoyed the story all along, finding it to be addicting, despite taking a while to read it. But I finished this weeks ago and am still l thinking about the vibrant characters, the fascinating - if terrifying - time period, and the the way the author constructed her story as if she'd found a series of historical documents. 

I love well researched historical fiction and this was exactly that. I felt like I had a real glimpse into thirteenth century provincial France, especially what life was like for women at that time. While the title of this story puts Dolssa as the central character, and she is certainly the catalyst for everything that happens, it is Botille, the peasant matchmaker, running a tavern with her two sisters, who truly stole the book for me. 

I have always loved history, but often it is studied in broad strokes, covering larger themes. However, my favorite aspect of studying the past is delving into the lives of the people who lived it. Combining history + stories, even fictional ones, allows us to connect with the past on a personal level. This book does that well, giving readers a taste of life in southern Provence, including the more dangerous forces at play at this time and place in history. Though I have studied this time period, I knew very little about what was happening in this part of Europe. I had no idea of the Crusades in this part of the world or the Inquisition that happened soon after in the mid 1200s.  

In some ways romance is a central element in this story and in some ways it is not at all. Botille has a more conventional romance that runs through this book, and it is not a central element. But I loved how it complimented this story, and the way her life in general is completely transformed by Dolssa's. Dolssa on the other hand is a Christian mystic, fully in love with and committed to her "beloved" Jesus in this story. It is a very personal, intimate relationship that is both empowering and radical. Because of that, Dolssa attracts a lot of notice - first positive and then very negative, leading to the intersecting of her life with Botille's.

History is often told in the perspective of the men who ruled it, but this book offers a stirring look at women's lives in medieval France. What I love is that these women are all so different - a pious mystic, a matchmaker, a tavern maiden who dabbles in prostitution, a fortune teller, a wealthy landowner, wives and mothers. Those who are content, and those desperate for something. Although these women live in a very different time period than our own, they demanded attention and sought their own paths, and I found many of them to be relatable and inspiring.

Please don't let the length of this book or its seemingly slow start or heavy subject deter you in picking this up. The Passion of Dolssa is a beautifully crafted tale filled with characters and a story that you will not soon forget. Although it takes place in the past, this book has many parallels to today. Don't miss this one!

Love Triangle Factor: None
Cliffhanger Scale: Standalone 


  1. I really like Julie Berry's books, so I'm sure I'm going to enjoy this one. I'm on the waiting list for it at the library. Glad you enjoyed it!

  2. I’ve read Julie Berry’s other books, but this one sounds even more amazing. I love historical fiction and this one takes the cake! Great review–I can’t wait to read this one :D

  3. I agree with everything in your review, Lauren. This book is lovely, with a terrifically smart ending, and I hope more readers find it.

  4. YAY :D Lovely review Lauren. <3 I'm so glad you liked this book a lot. Hugs. I cannot wait to read it. Haven't had the time to start it yet, but soooon. I'm so excited. I think I will love it too :) Yay for a small cute romance. And yay for awesome story. Thank you for sharing. <3


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