132 of 138 people found the following review helpful
Couldn't put it down
, August 29, 2012
This review is from: The Bloodletter's Daughter (A Novel of Old Bohemia) (Paperback)
The time is 1599 (though most of the story unfolds beginning in 1605). The place, Prague (and Cesky Krumlov, and Vienna). This rich story about a melancholy king's young, mad son Don Julius and the common (not really) bathmaid, Marketa, who also works with her father, the bloodletter, to help him, doesn't have a dull moment.
The story is easy to follow but has depth and range - the secondary characters (Matthias, King Rudolph's brother, who is anxious to take the crown; Annabella, the red-haired witch/healer and both Marketa's and the king's doctor, Jakub's friend; Katarina, Marketa's young love-struck friend who is forbidden to see her lover; and several others) are vivid, sympathetic characters with stories and lives I cared about. I enjoyed getting a look at the superstitions, beliefs, religious wars and family expectations and pressures of the time, as well as the foods and clothes the people ate and wore.
One of the things I loved most about the book is how the author drew such a captivating, compassionate and believable portrait of Marketa and Don Julius and their situation (relationship? it's difficult to use that word here). It's so easy to despise and criticize the young prince for his violent, abusive and horrific actions. But in Marketa's presence, some bit of mad magic occurs. We see the sad, scared boy within the young man fighting and struggling against the voices, his inner demons, to win and to do the right thing. This little bit of humanity makes it reasonable for smart, ambitious and brave young Marketa, who wants to be a doctor when it's seemingly hopeless for her to achieve such a goal, to have hope, sympathy and compassion for the prince, who is very close to her in age, and handsome and charming at certain moments despite his madness. I can understand how Marketa would believe she had a chance to cure Don Julius, and all things considered, throwing in her mother Lucie's selfish pressure for Marketa to help the family, I can even see how Marketa might hope for love with the prince.
Another of the things I admired about the book is how the author paints hope and redemption into characters who have made mistakes. An old, seemingly loveless and rude priest gets a chance to do the right thing. A dying mother superior who thinks she knows the best life for Marketa, listens to her frustrated young niece who she has never seen before, and makes the ultimate sacrifice.
All in all, those 500+ pages whiz by in a colorful flurry of on the edge-of-your-seat suspense, action and relationships that either grow stronger or fall apart. The book is a treasure to savor.
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