Once again Vantrease (The Illuminator) beautifully captures the ominous roar of dissension as the Church attempts to stamp out the heresies of John Wycliff and the Lollards. With one voice, the heretics denounce the Churchís stand on a priestís intercession between man and God, the translation of the Bible from Latin to the language of the common man, the doctrine of Transubstantiation and the existence of purgatory.
Agents of the church mercilessly track down the forbidden Bibles so favored by the people; to be found with such a book is certain death. The heresy has spread across the continent, even to Prague, where Anna Bookman and her grandfather, Finn the Illuminator, do a brisk business, kept comfortably busy in their cozy home.
When Annaís fiancť, Martin, is caught burning indulgences in church, he is sacrificed as an example to the rest, along with his friends. With barely time to grieve the loss of her future, Anna soon must cope with the death of her beloved grandfather. However, Finn has planned to protect Anna from the danger she may face when he can no longer protect her, instructing the girl to make her way to France and then to England for sanctuary with Sir John Oldcastle, a loyal friend of the cause.
Meanwhile in London, Friar Gabriel dispenses penances and indulgences as he is licensed to do by order of Thomas Arundel, the Archbishop of Canterbury. Certain that Sir John Oldcastle is the culprit behind an increasing number of translated Bibles in England, the archbishop charges Gabriel to travel to France, disguised as an affluent merchant, seeking the very texts with which to condemn Sir John.
The enmity between the archbishop and Oldcastle is of long standing, Sir John a close friend of Harry, soon to be crowned Henry V. The would-be-king does not share Arundelís enthusiasm for damning his friend, but the archbishop claims he will have irrefutable proof that Harry must act upon.
After some time with a band of gypsies, Anna books passage to France, where she meets a handsome merchant who does much to relieve her first days of insecurity in a foreign country. Anna falls in love with the stranger, none other than Friar Gabriel. The attraction is mutual; in the throes of forbidden love, Gabriel comes face to face with a profound crisis of faith, triggered by a fiery woman who challenges his every belief.
Gabrielís journey is the crux of the novel, a reckoning with the ambiguities of church dogma and a personal history that haunts his every move until he reconciles past with present. The novel is filled with rich characters - an Abbess who joins Sir John in secretly spreading the word of God to the commoners; the sly, vindictive old archbishop; a young king who cannot resolve the fate of his friend - the dark, pre-Reformation days of England the perfect backdrop for a society in the first throes of religious transformation. In a masterful mix of heresy, love and redemption, the ominous years of the 15th century are revealed, the hot breath of Godís inquisitors following their prey to the edge of reason.