Sebastian’s characterization is one of the novel’s brightest spots. His desire to learn more about witchcraft and his admittedly anachronistic attitude toward women (he’s shocked to discover that Institoris’s book, The Malleus Maleficarum, is deeply sexist) will draw readers in to the grim milieu. Gioconda writes with a painterly sensibility, steeping readers in the milieu and its mysteries: “Eyeless generations of monks’ skulls gazed down at him,” he writes, of the inside of a crypt. With evocative prose and careful research, he captures the nuances of medieval Church politics and the frank realities of the prejudices of the time.
Gioconda’s use of modern expressions (a priest refers to a recently published book as “crazy”, and Institoris’s use of the term “field researcher”) and an emphasis on the alluring qualities of the bodies of the female characters are jarring additions that diminish the immersive intensity. An extensive bibliography and that letter from the author offer helpful context into the actual history behind Gioconda’s fictionalized account. For fans of the darker aspects of historical fiction, especially western religious history, The Pope’s Butcher will resonate.
Takeaway: A dark, well-researched story centered on the Inquisition’s most notorious killer.
Great for fans of: Theresa Breslin’s Prisoner of the Inquisition, Mitchell James Kaplan’s By Fire, By Water.
Design and typography: A
Marketing copy: B-