Lent, by Jo Walton

Review copy provided by the publisher. Also I helped with an earlier draft of this book, because the author is a dear friend.

So this is a theologically focused historical fantasy about Savonarola. Bonfire of the Vanities, “purification” of Florence, hanged and burned by the Pope, that Savonarola. He is the protagonist, the close third person point of view is his. If you already know that you don’t want to spend a lot of time with Savonarola, get out while the getting’s good, because this is that book.

It’s hard to know how to talk about this book except in the vaguest terms, because the plot twist in the middle was so thoroughly surprising to me–and I am rarely surprised by plot twists–that I feel rather firmly that as many people should encounter it unspoiled as possible. Suffice it to say: there is a large structural THING in the middle of the book, a shift that changes all that comes before and after it. This is a book that pivots and then makes a spiral. (Spiral structured books are rare. Greer Gilman has one in Cloud and Ashes, but I’m not readily coming up with a lot of others.)

…most other things I can say about this are major spoilers. I found it fascinating and not like anything else. I mean, it’s like several of Jo’s other books in that it has Florence in it, it has Pico della Mirandola in it, it has Ficino in it, okay. But is it like the other books of Jo’s that have those things, no, not really. I don’t believe in a late-Medieval/Renaissance Catholic worldview on a very fundamental level, and I don’t think the book is trying to convince you to, but if you aren’t willing to entertain that worldview as at least a speculative premise, this will not be the book for you. But if you like interrogating/extending the natural conclusions of worldviews quite unlike your own, oh yes, this can do that. Quite a lot.

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