The Heretic’s Apprentice, by Ellis Peters
Yet again, in distinct ways from previous novels, this novel manages to hit alarmingly close to me. The story of this novel revolves around a young man who loyally brings the coffin of his lord back from their long pilgrimage. There he gives a young foster child of his lord’s family a dowry that proves extremely important to the plot of the novel. Then he spends nearly the entire novel under the shadow of heresy charges because of beliefs that are not far from my own, in questioning the Trinity, pointing to a chance for people and even demons to repent (like Origen) at a future judgment, largely because he seems unable to keep his mouth shut. One of the wiser monks advises him never to write a book because it would have to be burned, wise advice that is not easy for some of us to take. Then, on top of that, he finds himself as the prime suspect of the murder of the man who denounced him for heresy because of a perceived threat to his job, even as he falls in love with the young woman whose dowry he brings.
In many ways, this novel follows certain patterns from previous ones in the series. There are the obvious young lovers who one knows are going to be together, the open-hearted and brave young man falsely thought to be a threat whose character is vindicated and who marries well and finds a responsible position, makes some powerful friends, and wins a lovely bride impressed with his intellect even if he has some strongly worded opinions and some odd beliefs. Why can’t I be this lucky? This novel continues a trend for this series, and that is serving as wish fulfillment fiction for someone whose life could use some wish fulfillment. It is remarkable, and more than a little bit frightening, how a British authoress who died when I was a young teenager still managed to write so many novels about people alarmingly close to me, each novel looking at slightly different facets of the same sort of person that I am, ending up alright because of a friendly author (a very critical element to success, I might add).
In this novel, we see church politics take the center, as a young man with perhaps a bit too much interest in contentious questions finds himself in the middle of a firestorm that involves mobs of bullies and the threat of imprisonment and death, while being a decent fellow with a personality that asks a lot of questions. Also of interest is the fact that the ultimate motive behind murder (plot spoiler alert) happens to be an immensely gorgeous book, a psalter two centuries old that drives people to kill and die for it, until its owner decides it would be better spent glorifying God rather than serving as an object of temptation. It is a wise decision, all the more striking because it is a decision made by a young woman who can barely read at all, and who has been the recipient of an unusual amount of grace by others, grace she extends herself. Even more than is usually the case in these novels, this one left me with a lot to ponder.