WARNING: Reading this article may give away things in the story ranging from unimportant to plot turners.
The Passion of Dolssa by Julie Berrie
Type: Historical Fiction
Basic Plot: Dolssa is a young girl that receives visions from her “beloved,” Jesus. Believing her to be a heretic, the Inquisition is hunting down Dolssa. Dolssa goes into hiding in a village with a girl named Botille, and a whole village is changed by the Inquisition.
Plot: 5/5 Excellent Quality: I was so enraptured by the story that I finished in three days. Plot twists, historical accuracy, and suspense made the story gripping, being neither forced or cliché. Characters were deeper than most YA novels, though they could have been deeper. Almost all of the main characters are somewhat dynamic. They mature and at least partially change the way they look at things. The characters were also realistic, as even the evil inquisitors believe they are genuinely doing God’s will.
Writing Style and Setup: 4½/5 Amazing Quality: There were a variety of perspectives and styles, including first person, third person, and monologues. The narrative was not too casual as to sound awkward or unintelligent.
Moral: 3/5 A Good Moral: The book’s moral was to not hide the truth, especially when regarding history. The author shows this in her characters as well as in her own beliefs that she states at the book. Botille lies often to protect others, get out of trouble, and to convince people to do what she wants. She is often successful, but the more time goes on, the more her lies tend to hinder her and others. If anything, her lying eventually starts to strongly work against her, even if it was for the right reasons. Another case against lying was discussed by the author at the end of the book. She said while studying the Inquisition, she saw that the Catholic Church failed greatly in recording the truth regarding the heretics to the Catholic Church. She discusses how many people in power will try to change what history says in an effort to make those they disagree with seem like the bad guys of history or as if they never existed. She states that, “If truth matters one iota, we can’t be content to write history as we’d like it to have gone. We must tell it, to the best of out biased and hampered ability, exactly as it was.” God says a lot about lying. “Lying lips are an abomination to the LORD: but they that deal truly are his delight.” Proverbs 12:22. Whether a peasant girl lying to make a profit or a modern historian lying to make his side look better, both are wrong and both will eventually pay a price for lying.
Overall: 4½/5 Amazing: This is definitely a unique and historically accurate book. Teenagers and adults will both find it interesting, I believe, whether you are a boy or a girl. Some things may appeal to girls more, mainly because it is from a girl’s perspective, but some boys may still like the story.
Sexual and Inappropriate Content: 3/5 Suggestive Content and Inappropriate References: The priest of one town is mentioned to have impregnated several girls, and that he offers “comfort of a special kind.” A girl once visits him on a night when he has someone over, though it is only briefly mentioned and no details are given. Once when a girl is angry, she pinches her sister’s bottom, though not sexually. One girl is pregnant from this and is desperate to marry before it is obvious she is pregnant. Her friend once mistakes that she was pregnant from a married man. A girl asks a man if he was sent away from his town for seducing other men’s wives. He doesn’t deny it, and says he did seduce the concubines of the religious men. A mother wonders if her daughter had “sinned” because her daughter refuses to marry; she didn’t. One girl believes that men will wish to marry her because of her curves and points them out to her friend. A prostitute meets Dolssa and tries to convince her to join her in her work. A monologue later shows the prostitute asking a friar if he would like to stay with her for a little while. He refuses. It mentions that a man imagines a girl “trying to entice a man.” A man has a dream that Dolssa seduces him, hinting that she may have undressed in front of him. Though it is known that the man and girl have sex and that “She compelled him to… kiss and touch,” there is no description of touching other than a kiss. Characters kiss throughout the book in platonic and romantic manners, whether with the opposite or same gender, on the lips, cheek, and ear. All romantic kissing is between members of the opposite gender and only happens two or three times at most. A girl tells her sister to find a boy to kiss; she doesn’t. There is hugging and arm holding for romance, emotional comfort, or both. A girl once sits on a man’s lap. It is mentioned that the ability to hear noises in neighboring houses is a cause of embarrassment for newlyweds. Men and boys stare at girls crushing grapes, as their skirts are raised higher than normal, and they are described as having “lusty” eyes. A girl is described as “boxum” in the book. Two innocent people are accused of fornication. A girl is stared at by a man, and she believes he wanted “a roll in the hay,” though it is later revealed that he doesn’t. Characters are called sluts, whores, and harlots, whether they have earned the name or not. A girl refers to her sister mentally as a whore and “harlot goddess.” A man comments on a girl’s bottom. A girl’s mother, who has died, was a courtesan, adulterous, and whore according to her daughter’s memory, and she had many lovers. Breastfeeding is mentioned. Boys are whipped while they are nearly naked. Some girls help bathe Dolssa. Dolssa mentions that she believed some other girls were “grooming” her into prostitution, though they weren’t. It is mentioned that religious men have concubines and lovers, and a woman asks if a man searching for Dolssa is looking for her because she is his “mistress.” A girl believed heretics had “giant genitals.” It mentions a girl’s bosom bounces as she jumps. A man reflects how the smell, nearness, and touch of a love interest makes him feel. In conversation, twice it sounds like a man may be cheating on his wife or vise versa. A man asks a girl if she lives alone, making her worry he has dishonorable plans; he doesn’t. A man changes his shirt in front of a girl. A girl tells someone she is changing her clothes (when she isn’t), and then tells a boy that is present to leave her. A girl says she would not go in the forest at night because it is not proper (though she did) and reflects how she and her sisters are not known for their “maidenly reputations.” Dolssa looks at Jesus as a lover in several ways, and once when a girl sees her alone talking to an invisible Jesus, the girl compares it to barging in on kissing. The author says in her historical notes that some women in the past thought of Jesus as their husband, which included “passionate, sexual terms” to describe their view of Him. A book on prostitution, which apparently talks about sex as a list of things it discusses, is recommended in the “Additional Reading” section. “The… sensuality” of specific mystics is mentioned to be discussed in one of the recommended books.
Violence: 3½/5 Descriptive Violence: Violence is used for descriptive purposes. Characters are relieved to see other characters unhurt. Characters frequently make threats of violence that are not intended to be carried out. Characters are or nearly are burned alive descriptively, and there is talk of burning the bones of dead heretics. A girl says the fire “scorched” them, though they are merely near the fire. A girl is shot at with an arrow, though it hits a man. Characters talk of burning down a whole village but don’t. A man is attacked by two boys. The boys are fought off by some other characters. The fight includes tackling and beating characters over the head. Some boys are whipped and branded descriptively. The crusades are mentioned and once described in graphic detail. A girl says she is fine marrying a wife beater. It is mentioned that a cat bit a girl’s hand. A girl bites her tongue. A girl carries a whip with her as she travels and threatens people with it, though it is never used. Characters are commanded to whip other characters and to burn heretic’s bones. A man is pushed in his dream. A girl lies that a man was killed while saving man from assassination. Children push each other once. A woman wonders if her grandchildren accidentally hurt a man; they hadn’t. The historical notes mention a man being lanced to death and the crusades. A baby accidentally pokes a man’s eye. A girl pinches her sisters bottom as her sister pushes her sole into her foot. A man throws a woman “upon the ground.” A man is on the run for murderer, which he did out of fear of his friend’s being killed. It is mentioned that man dies from something falling on his head. A girl wishes God would kill persecutors. A girl tries to bite a boy at least once. Characters show playful violence, such as a light pinch. The historical notes mention the 9/11 attack, torture, and talk about groups of people’s zeal to kill others.
Swearing and Using the Lord’s Name in Vain: 3½/5 Proper and Improper Swearing: It is mentioned that characters swear, though it does not say what they said. “Damn” is properly used at least eight times and improperly used at least once or twice. The Occitan word “aze” (meaning “buttocks, bottom” in the book) is used several times throughout the book, though it is never made clear whether it is the equivalent of the English swear word. God’s name is possibly taken in vain in French at least thirteen times and possibly twice or more in English. “Lord” is misused once. Jesus’ name and blood are possibly misused once each. Some of the taking of God’s name in vain depends on how it is looked at as swearing or a prayer, but some is clearly misuse. “Piss” is used properly once. The “s” word is used twice in its original meaning, though in a spelling differed by one word. Women are called and referred to as harlots, sluts, and whores, with or without reason.
Emotional, Intense, and Disturbing Content: 4/5 Disturbing and Emotional Deaths and Violence: Several deaths mentioned in “Violence” are disturbing, mentioning the way they burn and scream. Characters nearly die several times, and the scenes can be emotional and dramatic. Characters talk, worry, and wonder about death, near deaths, and executions, whether it is their own or others. Characters are mentioned to have died in the past. Characters scream and throw up at the sight and smell of others dying. Boys are whipped in a descriptively humiliating manner. Characters accidentally burn their hands.A girl’s hand injury releases fluid. Dolssa’s legs are blood covered and torn up from walking for so long, and a girl considers how the injury could become more serious. It is mentioned that it is painful to have her injuries cleaned. It is wondered if a girl is an “angel of death;” she isn’t. A couple of characters funerals are held, though they are sad they are not extremely dramatic. A man goes into a drunken trance for several days after his wife’s death. A girl says that after her mother died she discovered her dead mother. A man wakes up screaming because of nightmares about the crusades. A man has a dream that he nearly dies of thirst. A man sings a song about the crusades and later describes them in graphic detail, describing how they killed people. It is mentioned that a cat once had worms and that a donkey once fell over and died. A girl wants to leave a dying girl be left for dead. Starvation is briefly mentioned. A girl’s hiding place is described as a “grave,” “tomb,” and “burial.” A girl lies that she had been looking at “a dying bird.” “Tanneries and slaughterhouses” are briefly mentioned at least once. A girl accidentally burns her hand. Blood is mentioned at least six times. Scars and bruises and a swollen eye are on characters, and once a man’s skull is heard to crack. Different types of injuries, such as “bleeding and bruised,” are used for descriptive purposes. A girl once thinks her sister is “a bled corpse.” “Murderous” and “dying” are used for descriptive purposes, and a man calls himself a “murderer” for his work in a crusade. A man is called “murder.”
Religious Issues: (At Least) 4/5 Great Practice and Mention and Possibly Blasphemous Activities: Several brief references to Catholic positions and methods are mentioned, including abbots and abbesses, abbeys, bishops, canons, clerics, cloisters, convents, the Eucharist, excommunication, friars, incense, last rites, liturgies, mass, monasteries, monks, nuns, parishes, penance, the pope, priest, priors, saints, the sacraments, shrines, and supposedly “sacred” and “holy” church objects and clothing. Catholic doctrine is sometimes briefly and lightly touched, such as beliefs that only the Catholic Church can learn about God or that the pope and Peter have or have had certain divine powers and authorities. Characters also believe Mary and the Catholic saints have spiritual powers. A woman wants her daughter to be a nun. Characters take the Eucharist once and attend mass a few times, though it is not described in detail. A girl is mentioned to pray for people’s souls. Saints are believed to have powers, and one girl prays to one. One girl is forced to join a convent. The Catholic Church is occasionally referenced to be “true” or called “the Holy Church.” Specific Catholic organizations and buildings are mentioned. Characters refer to each other in Catholic terms, such as “my son” or Dominus, a word meaning lord. A man is once referred to as His Excellency because of his religious position. Characters make the sign of the cross, and a girl once bows and prays at a Catholic shrine. A girl’s mother comforts her at least once, even though she is dead; it is hinted to be merely a dream. A girl wonders if Dolssa is hexing the when she is really just praying. A girl once thinks of her sister as a “harlot goddess.” A girl prays “Our Father,” though the English translation of the Occitan does not exactly match the Bible. Characters show that they believe your eternal destination is determined by the Catholic Church and works, as well as that the priest can forgive sins. Dolssa briefly wonders twice if she is in hell because of bad situations or things said that she deems blasphemous, and a girl once wonders where she will go when she dies. A girl once briefly wonders about “spirits of the dead” being out. A man calls a town “reprobate” for sheltering Dolssa. Characters are accused of blaspheme, once for being against the crusades and once for calling saying that Dolssa’s “beloved is a monster” if He does not care for Dolssa anymore. A girl thought she saw Jesus in her doorway. It was really her stepfather. A girl asks a man if he is a monk; he isn’t. A character wonders if a girl is a saint. Some girls think a demon is responsible for the death of an animal. The Muslim and Jewish religions are briefly mentioned. A girl says she wished Jesus could stay at their tavern and concludes that Dolssa’s allows this at least to a degree. “Offerings at a shrine” and “haunted” are used for descriptive purposes. Dolssa receives visions and feels burnings, as well as talks to and sees Jesus. She also says that he answers her. She also believes that if Jesus tells her to do something, she should follow that rather than the Bible, as she believes that is merely the Apostle’s writing. It mentions that she preaches in front of people and defends it by saying that since she isn’t in church, it isn’t against the Bible. A girl wonders if Dolssa is really “flesh and blood” because of the miracles she brings and hears voices in her head. Throughout out the book, mostly near the end, she sense voices more so than literally hears a person speaking. The author experiences something similar at the end of the book and writes something that happened in the past based on a spiritual revelation. Animals and people are called “devilish,” and characters compare to and accuse other people of being the devil or devils. A mole on Dolssa is thought once to be “the devil’s mark,” and she is accused of being “tricked (by) the devil” rather than actually talking to God. She refutes this by saying the devil does not tell others to love Jesus. A woman claims to have heard Mary speak to her. Either God or Dolssa performs miracles because of Dolssa’s prayers or presence. Such miracles may include healing, endless ale, or breast milk returning to a barren mother. Characters in the book sometimes look at Dolssa with a worshipful amount of respect, one woman even thinking her looking at her death as “God burn[ing] God.” Other characters are also mentioned to have been bowed to for supposedly being holy people. A man is practically an atheist because of how the crusaders treated supposed heretics, though it is shown that he still believes in God to an extent, and he refers to the Catholic’s God once with a lower case “g.” He looks at Christianity, specifically Catholicism and the crusades, with contempt. The historical notes mentions people being made saints and that women tended to view Jesus as their husband in a literal sense, sometimes with “passionate, sexual” things to say about Him. It also discusses mystics and slightly touches the Catholic view of Mary. Real and fake religious movements, Catholic and French religious figures, and salvation by works are all mentioned in the historical notes as well. “The spirituality” of specific mystics is mentioned to be discussed in one of the recommended books.
The religious premise of the book is the persecution of a girl who can literally see and talk to Jesus, as well as Now the Bible does say that one day we will be the Bride of Christ (First Corinthians 11:2 “For I am jealous over you with godly jealousy: for I have espoused you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ.”), but at the present time I believe we are merely engaged. Several verses point to this. (See Matthew 25 1-13, Revelation 19 7-9, and First Corinthians 11:2 to name a few.) Also, I believe that the church as a whole is the Bride of Christ, not individual people. I do not believe that Dolssa’s relationship with Jesus is necessarily how God intended it to be, though I do believe she is on the right track, as the Catholic Church has a very removed and impersonal in comparison to what God intended. In a sense, the book is about one form of heresy killing another. The book, therefore, should probably not be read for religious truth as much as for knowledge historically.
Magic: 2/5 Suggestive and Descriptive: Two girls pretend they can read palms, read minds, and see the future. It is strongly suggested they really can’t, merely that they are observant. At least three palm readings are described. One girl’s predictions come true on a regular basis, though she is occasionally wrong. A girl lies that her sister had a premonition. A girl talks about her mother being magic and passing it down to her daughters, as her daughter supposedly read fortunes. A girl accuses her sister of “bewitching” and “hex[ing]” men when they start giving her sister money, as well as ask if she can learn what to do, though the girl does not practice witchcraft. A girl thinks about “sprites and fairies” coming out at night. One girl greatly plays it up by going into costume and using a tent. Pictures of mermaids are used to decorate a girls dress. A girl wonders is Dolssa is hexing the when she is really just praying. Characters are called “soothsayers,” “mystics,” “sorceress,” and “devina” for various reasons, though whether they are or not is debatable. “Ghost,” “phantom,” and “fairy” are used for descriptive purposes, and characters wonder if other characters are these. They aren’t. “Dragonlike,” “trance,” and “specter” are used for descriptive purposes. As far as is known, no magic is clearly done in the book, though it is slightly hinted that one girl’s palm reading may be genuine. In the historical notes, “devina” is translated “soothsayer, witch (feminine).” In “Additional Reading” section, a book that mentions mystics and witches in the title is recommended.
Others: Some of the main characters live in and run a tavern. It is mentioned that they learn to and do make wine and ale. Some characters store their alcoholic drinks in an “ale cellar.” Characters offer alcoholic drinks as presents and serve them at bars. Wine and ale are drunk, and wine is used in food. A man is mentioned to be a “wine merchant.” A town is described as a “wine town,” as that is what the people drink. “Wine” and “liqueur” are used for descriptive reasons. Characters are mentioned and are accused of being “half-drunk” and “drunk,” and one girl is wobbly from drinking too much. Some girl’s father is a drunkard. Characters are mentioned to dance at par ties, and “dancing” is used for descriptive purposes. As a child, one girl would wear boy’s clothes. In the historical notes, it mention a winery.
Overall: 4/5 Adult Appropriate: This book is not really recommended. The swearing, gore, and religious confusion would probably be too much for most teenagers and definitely children. If anyone read it, I believe an adult would be the appropriate age, as they can discern the religious content best, but even then the sexual content and violence may reasonably cause many Christians to not read it.