Mouse is an unusual name for a young woman in 13th-century Bohemia, but then she's far from ordinary. She's intelligent and literate in several languages, yet unbaptized and forbidden to attend Mass. All are uncommon for her time. Raised in Teplá Abbey without a mother or father, she grows up knowing she has special talents – healing, for one – and is about to discover how far her power extends, a journey that takes her into the darkest realms of her world and of the human spirit.
At fourteen, Mouse saves the life of Ottakar, the Younger King of Bohemia, when he's brought to the abbey, gravely wounded by an arrow. The two form an immediate connection that endures despite their vast differences in social status and the danger they find themselves in – him, because a traitor wants to kill him, and her, because her supernatural abilities and closeness to the king elicit others' enmity. And her quest to discover more about her personal history proves to be the most treacherous path of all.
Bohemian Gospel is a strong debut, a historical fantasy novel taking place in a setting few readers will recognize or be comfortable in, which works to its advantage. The supernatural focus was much more prominent than I expected, given the publisher's blurb; this is far from a traditional historical novel.
The brutal court politics, full of bloody betrayals and deadly familial rivalries, call to mind the setting for Maurice Druon's Accursed Kings series. Ottakar comes to be known as the Golden and Iron King, which itself gives a hint at the book's atmosphere. I appreciated how period folklore was woven into the storyline (soul cakes, anyone?); likewise, the firm grip held by the church on regulating people's behavior.
Despite this, individual members of the clergy see something in Mouse worth protecting, which makes a refreshing change from stereotype. Father Lucas, her longtime mentor, calls her an andílek, or angel, and risks much to keep her alive and safe.
This made for an ideal read for All Hallows Eve, with its creepy suspense and unexpected-yet-apropos ending, but it should work well for any other time, especially if you'd like to take a stroll on the dark side of history. It was published on 11/16 by Pegasus ($25.95, hardcover, 367pp). Thanks to the publisher for sending me an ARC at my request.