Stormbringers by Philippa Gregory
Simon and Schuster, 2013. ISBN 9780857077356.
(Age: 12+) Highly recommended. Historical fiction. Romance. Religion. In 1453, a stranger tells Luca Vero, a trainee priest, that he has been chosen to search for indicators that the end of the world is imminent. Along with his servant, Freize, and clerk, Brother Peter, they travel across Europe, where they meet Isolde, a Lady Abbess, who has left the abbey with her servant, Ishraq, to regain her inheritance, stolen by her brother. Isolde and Luca are attracted and all five begin to travel together, the two becoming closer. So begins the first book Changeling in this series Order of Darkness, introducing the main characters and their plans.
Stormbingers, the second in the series, takes them to Piccolo in Italy where they are amazed at the large number of ragged and weary children, and entering the town find that a charismatic leader has told them of Jerusalem and the last days where the graves will open. Luca must interview this young man to see if he can add anything to his knowledge about the end of the world, his reason for travelling. But he and Isolde are transfixed by the words he utters, thinking that he is speaking to them about their lost parents, and being together once again. The suspicious Freize doubts Johann and questions his motives. But follow him they do, and when a tidal wave occurs, sucking the water out of the harbour, Johann and his followers think it is a sign from God to walk across the sea. When the water returns most of the children are drowned along with many from the village, so Isolde and Ishraq are branded stormbringers and put on trial for their lives.
Gregory weaves a tale redolent of Medieval life, with its plethora of suspicions and religious fervor, the crusades and hatred of Islam behind the ill-fated children's crusade of the fifteenth century. Although historians disagree about the possibility of the children's crusade, Gregory's story rings true because of the mass of detail which forms the formidable background, and the interplay between the main characters will have readers following their story eagerly.