I received The Illuminator from my trusty friend with the reading materials and she told me nothing of the plot except that I would love it, be ridiculously angry with it, and that it was set in the 14th century. This is not a lot to go on, but I knew that illuminators were the lovely lads who painted all the detail work into those beautiful manuscripts the monks were busy copying. So, I jumped right in.
She was correct on all three counts. I did love it. I loved it enough to keep reading it although I felt my ear drum was going to explode on a flight. I loved it enough to keep reading it when I was sure it was going to do nothing more but piss me off. I love it enough to tell you to read it, but only if you are like my friend and me and enjoy a good emotional thrashing. And yelling about characters that have disappointed you (thus the ridiculous anger).
The Illuminator is Brenda Rickman Vantrease’s first novel. Previously she was an English teacher and a librarian. Vantrease uses her knowledge of the time and, in time honored historical fiction strategy, takes what is known of a few big names (Bishop Henry Dispenser, John Wycliffe, Julian of Norwich, and John Ball) and create a plausible story in which they appear. The novel roughly covers the years 1379-1381 and leads up to the Peasant’s Revolt of 1381 and the various ecclesiastical shenanigans that are going on at the time. Our main characters are the widowed Lady Kathryn of Blackingham, her family and servants on the manor, and Finn the illuminator. Each character has a story arc of their own which work well to bring to light the reality of life in the time as well as tell a good story.