Cannonball Read 4 – Pope Joan

Cannonball Read felt like a challenge I could accept, especially when I discovered I could do a half cannonball of 26 books. This felt doable.

So here’s my first review for Pope Joan by Donna Woolfolk Cross:


Do you like political intrigue? Subterfuge? Espionage? A tale of stolen identities and familial politics?

You do. Great. Here’s the kicker:

How do you feel about the 9th century? Are you still interested?


Pope Joan chronicles the life of perhaps the only woman to ascend the throne of St. Peter. This historical fiction is told completely from Joan’s perspective. The novel checks in with Joan every few years, detailing the nature of her family and family dynamics in general, life in rural Frankland – and eventually beyond, the ever-changing political landscape following Charlemagne (the man divided his empire amongst his three sons – this was not a good idea.), and the inner workings on the Catholic Church.

There is, it should be said, a lot of information to absorb in this book but at no point did I feel overwhelmed. And this is fiction the way I like it best. The author, Donna Woolfolk Cross spent quite a bit of time and a lot of diligent effort doing the historical research on Joan specifically and the 9th century broadly. We meet a cavalcade of characters, some who stay in the story for hundreds of pages and some who come and go quite quickly but they are all richly developed.

At over four hundred pages you might not expect it to be a quick read, but I was able to move through it at a relatively quick pace, but not so quickly as to not remember the details and nuance of the story. As I write this review it has been a few weeks since completing the novel and the plot has stayed with me, and in the days that followed my completion of the novel I was dying to talk to someone about it.

So read it and let’s talk about it!


About Katie

Museum educator, caffiene junkie, book lover, student of history, overall goofball.

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