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The Saint and the Fasting Girl by Anna…
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The Saint and the Fasting Girl

by Anna Richenda

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I was anxious to read this book, as a scholar of medieval history and having a keen interest on the lives of women during this time I as excited. The book was well written and the places were well described although I would have preferred a bit more description on the people. I was put off by the fantasy elements in the book. I love to read fantasy books but when I go to read an historical fiction I am no expecting fantasy. The reincarnation aspects of the book and the cult like qualities of the "convent" were not what I was expecting. All said the book was well written but the story was unappealing. ( )
  goth_marionette | Jan 16, 2010 |
THE SAINT AND THE FASTING GIRL
Anna Richenda, iUniverse, 2009, $19.95, hb, 332pp, 9781440132414
 The Saint and the Fasting Girl takes place during the reign of Henry VIII when the religious order of the time turned tempestuous as he broke ties with Rome and formed the Church of England. The tale begins at the Saint Isela nunnery, in the northern part of England. The nuns who live there believe in the miracle of Saint Isela, as do the many pilgrims who flock to the site for healing. Sister Georgia, the prioress, is the Bearer who keeps Isela’s sacred relic, a stone amulet. Her mission is to protect the relic and the Chooser for the future return of Isela. 
 As Henry’s court dictates authority, the evil archbishiop Philip SeVerde imposes his mandates and demand the nuns’ submission to him. Georgia is boldly defiant and with feisty gaul, stands up to his demands. After a short-lived reprieve when the nunnery appears safe, the archbishop returns and decimates the priory. He is triumphant in his battle, yet Sister Georgia and her fellow nuns escape to the country to hide. They are constantly on the move fearing capture. 
 The journey to freedom and recovery of the relic of Saint Isela is a tortuous and brutal path for Georgia and her women. She must endure horrific pain, beatings, and demoralization from both physical and sexual abuse. They fight for survival throughout the story with an unexpected turn of events that shapes a twist to the ending. 
 Richenda’s writing excellence is shown in her realism and specificity for detail. Her depiction of torture and punishment common during the period provides no cover up. With precision and clarity, she inspires odorous fumes that waft off the pages to arouse stomach churning. There are many characters who provide support to the story, but Georgia clearly will remain a favorite as the resolute and courageous heroine. 
 Anna Richenda’s novel is a beautiful, well-researched mystifying tale of endurance, hope, and love.

( )
  WisteriaLeigh | Nov 24, 2009 |
Anna Richenda sent me this richly worded story of a group of women living in England during the time of the early Reformation. She asked if I would be interested in reviewing it, and I agreed to read. I had recently finished Ken Follett’s Pillars of the Earth so I was familiar with the period and thought it sounded really fascinating. I apologize to Anna for not getting to it sooner.
This book has great descriptive text. Through her writing, we are transported to a time and setting of awful stenches, steaming piles of mud and manure, bone-numbing cold, gruesome starvation, teeth-chattering rains, blood and sweat and urine soaked straw mattresses and every other physical hardship that can be dreamt of.
As the story progresses, there are action scenes worthy of Mel Gibson’s Braveheart – lots of blood, gore, pounding hooves, waving swords and pikes and bishop’s staffs; children, horses, pigs, chickens and pregnant women being beaten, whipped, dragged away, burned and hanged; and lots of trauma (as in chopping off) of various body parts.
The chapters are well defined and divided into easy to read in one session pieces, but with chapter titles that seem, with a few exceptions, to have nothing to do with the text that follows.
I have done some other reading (albeit fiction) set in this period, and have spend time literally traipsing through the area of England she talks about, so I from my limited perspective, I’d say that her historical settings are accurate portrayals of the times and places.
All that said, I need to preface the rest of this review with the caveat that I don’t like fantasy, or paranormal activity, so I really had a hard time with a lot of this. I regret to say that I couldn’t figure out the point of this book. Here are some of my issues:
• First of all, there is only one main character and she has (had?) many lives (incarnations?) with different names, and has (had?)been killed many times but keeps coming back to be the bearer of the relic of St. Iselda. This rebirth issue made it difficult for me to get an accurate picture in my mind of what this woman looked like…something I find necessary if I’m to read a story about a main character.
• We never hear what St Iselda is supposed to do (other than restore these women to power? – power over what? Men?) or why these women are following (worshipping?) her .
• The ‘followers’ of the saint (they keep emphasizing “we’re not nuns”) go through quite a bit of persecution on the part of both the Roman and Protestant Catholics, who see any woman as a threat, nuns as whores, and treat women as chattel but why this is any different than treatment of any other group of religious at the time is not really clear.
• I know that during medieval times there was quite an emphasis on appealing to saints for protection, and relics were big big big, but never once in this book did I hear a prayer being sent heavenward to any deity…only female saints.
• Every chapter builds to a new battle with some MAN or other, and often involved some struggle to find the relic (which kept getting stolen). For the first 150 pages or so, this constant distress and see-sawing held my interest; after that, I began to find myself saying ‘Oh no, not again….when is this ever going to end?’ And maybe that’s the point. Was her point that for women, this never ended?
• For me all the aforementioned descriptive text provided way TOO MUCH INFORMATION. Ok …it smelled bad…it was cold…nobody took a bath…ok…I get it, but I didn’t like having to get it over and over again.
If her point was to demonstrate that woman were treated poorly in Merry Olde England, she’s done that in spades.
If the point was to portray the customs and lifestyle of this particular cult of woman, she did that too…sorta…but I found I had to stop in the middle of the book, go to the web page listed in the acknowledgements and read about Anchorites and their practices for any of this to make sense. And this pointer was buried at the end of the book in acknowledgements---not in the front, where the reader could have used it.
Then there’s this whole issue of being reborn. I saw resonances with the tribal memories we saw in “Clan of the Cave Bear” but this was quite different…this was a reincarnation theme that had the main character coming back ….and back…and back…and bringing memories with her and dragging, and I mean drrrrrr….aaaa…..ggg…….ing this Saint into everything. Often, these revived memories appeared to have been drug induced or the result of sleep deprivation, so I found myself not accepting their validity.
As I said, I never could figure out who the Saint was (other than the owner of the blood in the relic) or what she had done to merit such devotion, or what on earth power she had that was going to turn the whole world into one dominated by women where men weren’t needed.
And I never did figure out which of these ladies was ‘the fasting girl’ – I think there was more than one, but….?
As I said, I don’t normally read in the paranormal genre, nor do I read or enjoy fantasy. This book, while billed as historical fiction, to me reads much more toward like fantasy than historical fiction. I half expected Wonder Woman to rise from the bubbling stream of muck! Or a unicorn to come bounding out of the woods to rescue the princess or girl or nun or whatever she was! I probably wasn’t the right person to review this. I think this book would have been helped immensely by putting some background material at the beginning. If I hadn’t gone and delved into her reference on the Internet, I’d never have finished it.
If you’ve never heard of Anchorites (and that term was NEVER mentioned in the book itself—I had to discover it on the internet), if you’ve no experience of religious women living in community (I was educated by nuns from 1st grade through college and I still have trouble understanding it), and if you’ve never read anything else about this period, this is probably not the book to start with.
On the other hand, if you’re well versed in Reformation England history and its religious battles, and enjoy adding to your knowledge of the period, if you like some fantasy in your fiction, you may find this to be a welcome addition to your library. ( )
1 vote tututhefirst | Sep 28, 2009 |
gloriously debunks the myth that anti-intellectualism, anti-feminism & rigid hierarchy are the essence of religious piety rather than hindrances thereof; a vivid and compassionate historical novel ( )
  angelrose | Aug 12, 2009 |
In The Saint and the Fasting Girl, Anna Richenda tells the story of a fictional, heretical sect of women in the Catholic church, during a time when the Church of England was separating from Catholicism under the direction of King Henry the VIII. The story itself, while obviously fantasy (one character is reincarnated), has a very, very firm grounding in the reality of the 16th century.

For me, this book was quite disturbing -- and that is definitely a credit to the author. While obviously a work of fiction, the historical setting for this novel is so well done, so well researched, that you feel as if you're living it -- and life in the 1500s was not at all pleasant, especially if you had the misfortune to be born female. The author makes this abundantly, painfully clear with every sentence, as we follow the struggles and suffering of the lead character as she strives to bring about the promises of the Saint that founded her sect.

Throughout this book, we are made very aware that even those of wealth and high station, such as the Archbishop of York, live in conditions that we would be very uncomfortable with. Certainly an Archbishop of today wouldn't be searching his hair to remove a flea.

The only complaint that I have with this book is the ending -- not because there was anything wrong with the ending (there wasn't), or because it wasn't well written (it definitely was) -- but because I found myself, at the end, wanting all of the suffering and struggle to bring about a major change in the world. I found myself wishing for what the lead character did -- a return of her Saint. However, this was not to be, nor could it -- because such a thing would have certainly wrought major changes in the world that simply didn't happen. Instead, the ending leaves you, as the reader, to decide for yourself what message to take away from the story. On the whole, the ending chosen by the author makes the story deeper, and richer, than a triumphal climax would have, and was certainly a better choice -- but, as with real life, sometimes the miracle just isn't that obvious. ( )
  ljbryant | Jul 13, 2009 |
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Historical Fiction, set in the Tudor period during the English Reformation.
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