This is one I found in the discount bin at my local library sale so I didn’t have a lot of expectations but this teen novel set in a dystopian future exceeded my meagre wishes. This was a story of growing up, questioning absolute authority, finding the path to walk on, making a choice and standing up for the core truths despite danger.
This is the story of Alis, a girl of mere 14, who is told by her parents, her village’s elders, that she is to marry the local priest who is nearly double her age. She is distraught by the idea and she uses the first opportunity she gets to escape to the nearby village with her aunt. There she finds that her community seemed relaxed in comparison as the people of the Book had bigger powers there and were stricter in their usage. Any sign of disobedience or mere sin was severely punished by cruel whippings. It was worse in her aunt’s house as her tyrannical husband, Thomas, does not agree with Alis’ relaxed upbringing and has a strong desire to “discipline” her as well.
After witnessing a public whipping for a minor offence, Alis finds shelter with the local minister and slowly comes to trust and love their grandson, Luke. She plans to escape with him to the big city where her brother was located..
Things go wrong when the local church catches fire and Thomas is quick to accuse Alis as the wrongdoer as she was spotted outside after the fire started. Alis escapes with Luke’s help and she is given to a big man who was going to the city and told that he was to find work for her.
The city was not as magical as expected – filled with thievery and corruption and whore-houses and the ever extending influence of the Communities of the Book who aggressively bought out houses and then controlled who came and went and what people did inside.
This is not yet as bad as the religious totalitarianism displayed in A Handmaid’s Tale, but it was interesting enough to see a world in the process of “becoming” through the eyes of a girl.
Alis does find her brother but she finds out that he had resorted to a life of crime as leader of a thieves gang and even though she was taken under his wing, his acolytes grow more and more dissatisfied with the fact that she is not “working” for her keep. Either stealing with them or whoring. Alis befriends his brother’s girlfriend and when his brother gets injured, she knows that the new leader of the pack won’t accept her so she runs away. She decides to go back to Luke and even works at an inn to get her way paid. But when she returns, the maid tells her that Luke has died over a year ago due to the cold he caught the night he helped her escape.
Defeated, she returns to her home village and allows herself to be married off to the elderly priest.This is where the story starts getting interesting.
Once she marries the priest, all the girls in the village, with the exception of one of her childhood besties, start shunning her and talking about her behind her back.
In her own way, she starts loving the gentle priest who does not force her and allows her to live in her own quarters. Alis is pale and weak and does not thrive in this arrangement. Her mother is worried and her dad is also consumed by the fact that their beloved daughter is wasting away. They had no choice in the matter as opposing the Community’s elders would have brought wrath upon all of their citizens so they sacrificed their daughter into this arranged marriage.
Alis’s life changes when Luke appears again and finds out he was not nearly as dead as she taught. In a moment of weakness, she confesses she never slept with the priest and if the priest would ever force her, she would use the knife skills she learned in the City.
This conversation will come to haunt her as the priest is stabbed by her old girlfriend who came to see her and was startled by the figure approaching her. The priest dies and Thomas, who came to visit the town along with his ailing wife, is quick to jump to Alis’ throat and accuse her again – this time of murder.
I liked the book. The trial, peppered with unjust accusations, reminded me of the one from Alias Grace and also from Alvin Maker’s Heartfire Witch Trials.
I do recommend this book – great YA read and a solid 4/5.