The final page-turning installment of The Crucible series, The Crippled Angel, sees Thomas Neville, former Dominican, warrior and now King Henry’s (Hal’s) confidant and conscience, forced to make the decision that will change the world. Understanding what he is and what’s expected of him, the role he has no choice but to play, Neville nonetheless struggles with his morals and what he believes he must do, procrastinating endlessly! Despite the apparent wickedness of the angels and deception of those called demons, Neville feels he must search for alternatives or delay the inevitable for as long as possible, bringing everyone and thing to the brink of disaster.
Against a backdrop of war, politics, pestilence, treachery and unbelievable cruelty, moments of kindness, generosity and love shine. It’s these, particularly in the form of Hal’s misused Queen, Mary, that Neville clings to as the angels and events conspire to force his hand. A strong friendship develops between Neville and Mary which is the woman’s only respite as Douglass does not spare the gentle queen any misery and we bear witness to utterly appalling injuries – emotional and physical – inflicted upon this poor soul.
Philip and Catherine also feature as does Joan of Arc and, of course, Neville’s wife and child. Relationships grow, transform, suffer and are fulfilled or otherwise. Again, Douglass uses real figures and events to create verisimilitude amd add richness and depth to this complex tale. Dates and places differ as do consequences, but the excitement never abates.
Using a great deal of medieval biblical and religious imagery, Douglass paints a bleak, adventurous and marvellous world where angels and demons tread and manipulate boldly for their own purposes amd where good and evil are no longer black and white but more than fifty shades of grey. The Church as an institution is not let off lightly, and Christianity as preached by Jesus is upheld as a system of faith that’s been as brutalized and misinterpreted as Mary by those with their own shocking agendas. I admire Douglass enormously for the themes she tackles in this series and the ideologies and beliefs she places under a daring microscope. For while this rollicking take of good, evil, everything inbetween and those who practice it is set in the past, it still resonates strongly today.
A fabulous conclusion to a terrific series.