Order of Darkness is Philippa Gregory’s young adult historical fiction series which follows Luca Vero, a novice priest, who is recruited into a secret order to travel across Europe to investigate the end of days. It is through his travels with his companions, Brother Peter and Freize, that they investigate strange occurrences at a nunnery and meet Lady Isolde and her friend Ishraq who are wrapped up in a mystery and their own mission to restore Isolde to her rightful place.
Fool’s Gold is the third installment and the group arrive in 1450s Venice. I’ve never been disappointed with Gregory’s depictions of medieval towns, cities and life as the historical context is so well written into all of her books. The feel of Venice was so descriptive yet it did not overwhelm a sing page of the novel.
However, it doesn’t feel like the characters have really progressed from where they were in the first book in the series. The romance between Luca and Isolde has been dragged out painfully slowly, Ishraq is still letting Isolde force her world views on her despite her desire to decide for herself, and Freize doesn’t feel like a main character but more of a spare part whose only function is to chance the scene.
The lack of depth to the character might be a product of the genre, as Gregory is known for her adult fiction books, and young adult literature can be hard to adapt to if you are used to a different audience. However the tempo of the plots are engaging enough for a younger audience who possibly doesn’t want to spend so much time developing a strong historical connection and be overwhelmed by detail.
Ishraq is a standout character from the entire series for me, mainly because her self control is admirable when Isolde starts preaching and forcing her, completely understandable, medieval christian views on her. It was a pleasant surprise to read about a minority character who was written in such an innovative way that doesn’t conform to the white-masculine dominated narrative that would generally erase such a character from history. Ishraq craves knowledge and to fully understand her identity. She also refuses to commit to a set of values that she does not thoroughly believe in. She isn’t cast as the romantic lead in this series but her identity sub-plot is something that has kept me reading three books into this series.
For those readers unfamiliar with historical fiction, this series seems like a fitting gateway into the genre as it introduces historical contexts without the overwhelming detail that can sometimes swap a readers engagement. But with medieval historical fiction, it is noteworthy to remember the social context of the plot, for example the religious presence as well as the conservative gender roles, before critiquing it under a postmodernist viewpoint.