Wednesday, February 10, 2010

REVIEW: Pope Joan by Donna Woolfolk Cross

It was no picnic being a growing girl in the 9th century and we see this several times over through the eyes of the title character Joan. Joan is born in poverty to a saxon mother and a father who is a canon of the church. Joan's mother dotes on her while her father regards her as an insolent nuisance and saves all his affection for the two boys of the family. When one brother dies, Joan's father pins his hopes on the other brother John to become a great figure within the church even though John is not good with his studies at all. She endures endless cruelty from her father until her brother is sent away to school and Joan escapes and follows him there. While there the school is attacked in a Viking raid and John is killed. Joan decides this is her chance, disguises herself as her brother and joins a monastery as John Anglicus.

She proves herself an able healer and gaining notice for this ability and her brilliant mind, continues to move up in the Church and is eventually elevated to Pope. She is constantly in conflict over her wish to lead the church and her desire to cast off her disguise to be with her love, Gerold.

I really enjoyed this book. I tried to capture the gist of the story in the synopsis above but I fear I did not do it justice. It made me curious as to whether there ever really was a female Pope and also gave me a glimpse into how political the Catholic church could be. This story was so well written it really did not feel like I was reading a 450 page book. The only complaint I had is the ending was kind of abrupt for me but I can get past this since it had just the right blend of strong characters, violence, intrigue, and a wee bit of romance thrown in for good measure.

It must have been truly awful to live in a time where women basically just existed to serve men and weren't allowed to have any kind of a life of their own at all. I know they made a movie out of this book and it was released in Europe late last year but not here in the US yet. I hope they do release it soon. I think it would be fascinating to watch this book come to life on the big screen.

If the FTC is wondering: This book is from my own personal library


  1. sounds great, i've had this on the list for awhile, i might have to get onto it soon!

  2. Hi, Holly! This is Donna Woolfolk Cross, the author of Pope Joan, writing to thank you for the great (and very well-written) review. I love you system of rating with fleurs-de-lis!

    FYI: the movie version of Pope Joan is terrific--beautifully acted and filmed, as you can see from the still shots at Isn't David Wenham, who plays Gerold, PERFECT for the part? I asked for him specifically after I saw him play Faramir in "Lord of the Rings".

    Anyone who's a member of a book group might want to know about my offer to "Join the Conversation" by speakerphone on the night they discuss my novel. I make the phone call from my end, so there's no expense to the group. Lots of fun--and an opportunity for readers to get answers from "the horse's mouth", so to speak. (for example, I could have explained about that ending!)

    More information about these chats, the novel, and the movie can be found at

    Thanks again for the kind words, Holly. And yes, you're right; we should all be very grateful that we didn't live in the ninth century!

  3. WOW those movie still are gorgeous and that is almost exactly how I pictured Gerold in my mind too :)