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A.P. Andes
John the Angelic: A Chronicle of Pope Joan
A.P. Andes, author

Adult; General Fiction (including literary and historical); (Market)

Set in the ninth century, John the Angelic, Volume I of A.P. Andes’ genre-bending quartet, The Latecoming West, explores one of history’s most egregious omissions, excised from the record with cold precision: the brilliant, willful woman, Pope Joan. After her father's murder and the loss of their home at sixteen, she adopts the dress and mannerisms of a young man to enter the monastic life, meeting in the process a count who will become her mentor, lover, and closest companion. The book and the series’ succeeding volumes chart her struggles, rise through the ranks, and eventual ascension to the papal throne.
Andes shines in the first volume of this ninth-century historical literary fiction quartet, The Latecoming West, based on the early medieval life of Pope Joan. After 16-year-old Joan’s father is killed and she finds her overbearing mother impossible to live with, Joan leaves town with the intention of passing herself off as a boy and joining a monastery—the beginning of her journey from Joan to John the Angelic. Along the way, she becomes attracted to a young man named Clovis of Basinesheim, who tests her resolve to lead a monastic life.

Andes’s beautiful prose abounds in this novel, with phrasing such as “dawn alone murdered every infinity” and “sweet, burnt tars of carbon slice through the eye’s albumen, the moon lopped from its branch halts mid-drop.” On the other hand, some bold interludes, covering philosophical subjects or how the music of Joy Division is “the recording of the real beyond reality,” quickly become distracting, despite being crafted to offer “an enhanced reading experience.” (A lengthy excursion into a head-cheese eating contest is stomach-churning.)

Long a scholar of Joan’s journey from Joan to John the Angelic, Andes has obviously done extensive historical research, which is evident on every page—from his recounting of 9th century septic systems to early Catholic theology, and he backs it all up with meticulously detailed bibliographic citations. Andes also aptly explores the importance and dichotomy of women in the church in an innovative and compelling way: “Why then, hast Thou permitted men of the Church to so entomb women of faith, so that we are as no more than pets or beasts of burden within the walls of Thy house?” The story ends on a cliffhanger of sorts, which may annoy get-to-the-point observers, but readers unfamiliar with Pope Joan (as well as those who worship her) will glean a valuable history lesson about this lesser-known figure, and fans will find themselves looking forward to the next volume in the quartet.

Takeaway: History buffs—particularly those enamored of Pope Joan—will devour this impeccably researched and skillfully written tale

Great for fans of: Donna Woolfolk Cross’s Pope Joan, Hella S. Haasse’s In a Dark Wood Wandering.

Production grades
Cover: A
Design and typography: B+
Illustrations: B
Editing: B
Marketing copy: A-