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Book Review: The Nameless Day, Sara Douglass

I first read this book when it was published in 2000 and, while I’d forgotten a great deal about it, I did recall that I really enjoyed it. Re-reading it again, however, made me appreciate not only Douglass’ story-telling style, which grabs you by the throat and doesn’t let you go, but also her skill for weaving actual history into her fictive works. The Nameless Day and, I suspect, the entire Crucible series, illustrates her mastery at this.

The Nameless Day centres on a former soldier and aristocrat, Thomas Neville who, after the grisly suicide of his paramour and murder of her children, abandons the sword for the cross, becoming a Dominican friar. Only, life isn’t going to be easy for this complex, confused man as unbeknownst to him, he’s about to play a crucial role in the forthcoming war between the angels and demons. Told he’s to inherit the mantle of a mysterious and independent friar, the marvellously named, Wynken de Word, Neville sets out to reclaim this man’s casket, said to hold the secrets Neville needs to defeat the evil about to engulf the world. But this wouldn’t be a Douglass book if the protagonist wasn’t sorely tempted to stray from the path God has laid out for him and Neville’s adventures are no exception. Temptation arrives in the form of the beautiful Meg, a woman Neville loathes with every fibre of his being….

Set against the backdrop of the schism in the Catholic church (where two popes were declared – one in Rome and one in Avignon), the Hundred Years War between Britain and France, Joan of Arc, and internal strife raging through Britain in the form of tensions between Yorks, Lancasters and the spread of the Lollard movement, Douglass also charts the rise of humanism and the early stirrings against the exclusivity and greed of the Roman Catholic church.

Explaining that this book is set in a parallel universe to ours, one where it’s not unlikely that Archangels Michael and Gabriel would appear and the miracles attributed to Joan of Arc occur, this is a sweeping saga of a book with one of the most unlikeable protagonists I have ever encountered. I loathed Thomas Neville for most of this book and yet, it’s a credit to Douglass that you still want to undertake this journey with him, even if it’s only to see him eat his words and be humbled in the end.

Full of bloodshed, religious bigotry, zealotry and indulgence, it’s also full of rich characters, a fabulous plot and accurate historical detail, which is beautifully woven into the fabric of the story. I finished this book and went straight onto the The Wounded Hawk. This is story-telling at its brutal, fast-paced best.

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