Monday, August 22, 2011

Review: "Pope Joan" by Donna Woolfolk Cross

From Goodreads:  For a thousand years her existence has been denied. She is the legend that will not die–Pope Joan, the ninth-century woman who disguised herself as a man and rose to become the only female ever to sit on the throne of St. Peter. Now in this riveting novel, Donna Woolfolk Cross paints a sweeping portrait of an unforgettable heroine who struggles against restrictions her soul cannot accept.
Brilliant and talented, young Joan rebels against medieval social strictures forbidding women to learn. When her brother is brutally killed during a Viking attack, Joan takes up his cloak–and his identity–and enters the monastery of Fulda. As Brother John Anglicus, Joan distinguishes herself as a great scholar and healer. Eventually, she is drawn to Rome, where she becomes enmeshed in a dangerous web of love, passion, and politics. Triumphing over appalling odds, she finally attains the highest office in Christendom–wielding a power greater than any woman before or since. But such power always comes at a price . . .

My Thoughts: 
This was a really engaging read.  I know that there is almost no evidence that there was a Pope Joan, I thought the author did a great job of creating a plausible character out of conjecture.  I loved the idea that an intelligent woman infiltrated a man’s world and managed to rise to the highest office possible in Europe at that time (this book takes place in the 800s).  Joan was a relatable character and I was really happy that the author did not let the minor romantic aspect of the story overtake everything.  I thought it was cool that the author had Joan choose duty over love because it made the story more believable.  I did not love how abruptly the story ended though.  It felt like the story moved really quickly and then boom, it was done.  I understand why she did it but at the same time it felt kind of rushed.  All in all, I liked this book and as always I especially appreciated that the author included an extensive note at the end of the book explaining the actual facts surrounding the story.  4 stars.


  1. I read this one a while ago and I thought it was good too. It made me curious as to whether there really was a Pope Joan.

  2. This sounds like such an interesting read, I guess even just a whisper of a rumour that there ever was such a woman is enough of a great idea for a story! I really want to read this now :-)


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