Book Review: The Reformation of Lady Elinor

Several years ago I reviewed The Shack by Wm. Paul Young.* I hated it. It seemed to me that it was little more than a theological treatise wrapped up in a novel, and not a particularly good novel at that. Of course, it's a hugely popular bestselling book and has since been made into a film, so I'm in the minority - although one friend admitted that she liked it but was under the impression that it was  a true story (it isn't) so is reassessing it in the light of this new knowledge.

Now, I'm not going to say that religion and fiction shouldn't mix, because several of my books (The Haven series, Easterfield, Honeymoon Heist and especially The Saved Saint) do just that. My issue with The Shack was that it appeared to me that the author had some pretty unusual and personal religious views that he wanted to make known, but knowing that others would be unlikely to buy his book if he titled it "My views on God, reality, and the purpose of life" he dressed it up as a novel instead, about losing a child and having an epiphany as a result.

So it was with some trepidation that I embarked upon reading The Reformation of Lady Elinor, because it is probably the most religion-heavy book of fiction I have ever read, right up there with The Shack. However, there the similarity ends. For one thing, in this case the theology isn't one person's offbeat theories but the historical reality of the Catholic church and the reformation. Also, reading it in the context of a novel is actually helpful, because it enables the reader to understand the viewpoints of those involved at the time. We can get into the mindset of a trusting and devout Catholic woman, and also see the courage of the reformers. The story part was also well woven, if a little predictable. In other words, this is how to mix theology into a novel.

It's a heavy read, quite apart from all the details about Catholic and Lutheran theology - which is no beach reading either. I found the descriptions of cruelty to animals, and people, really difficult, but I suppose it is a true illustration of the brutality of the period. It's not a nice book, but it is a good book. I give it four stars, and if you are interested in theological history, it's one not to miss.

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*A couple of years later, when I was at the height of my regular book review blogging, Young's publishers graciously sent me a hardback ARC of his new novel, Crossroads, to review. I hated that too.

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