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The Burning Times: A Novel

The Burning Times: A Novel

3.8 7
by Jeanne Kalogridis

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The year is 1357. The Inquisition rages throughout medieval France, searching ruthlessly for heretics. In an epic tale of passion, mystery, and unspeakable danger, one woman faces the flames...and triumphs.

Mother Marie Françoise, born Sybille, is a midwife with a precocious gift for magic — a gift that makes her a prime target for persecution


The year is 1357. The Inquisition rages throughout medieval France, searching ruthlessly for heretics. In an epic tale of passion, mystery, and unspeakable danger, one woman faces the flames...and triumphs.

Mother Marie Françoise, born Sybille, is a midwife with a precocious gift for magic — a gift that makes her a prime target for persecution at the hands of the Church. She flees her village and takes refuge in a Franciscan sisterhood. Before long, Sybille's unusual powers bring her under the scrutiny of the Inquisition. Michel, a pious and compassionate monk sent to hear her confession, finds himself drawn more intimately into Sybille's life and destiny than either of them could have imagined.
Like a magician herself, Jeanne Kalogridis weaves a tale of star-crossed love, of faith and heresy, of mysticism and witchcraft, against a fascinating historical backdrop — the Black Death, the Hundred Years' War, and the catastrophic defeat of France at the hands of the English. The result is a page-turning novel about one of the most intriguing periods in history.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Dracul, turns from fangs and bloodsucking to gnosticism and witchcraft in this paranormal romance-cum-medieval fantasy. In 14th-century France, Franciscan abbess Marie Fran oise is arrested by the Inquisition on charges of heresy and communion with the devil. As the inquisitors prepare to burn her at the stake, Dominican scribe Michel is ordered to secure Marie's confession. Yet Michel is inexplicably drawn to the abbess, convinced of her holiness and determined to find her innocent. Marie, whose true name is Sybille, confesses to her pagan upbringing at the hands of her loving yet hedonistic grandmother. Following her sexual initiation into the cult of Diana, known as the "Race," and the burning of her grandmother at the stake, Sybille flees to a nearby abbey, impersonates a nun and tends to the victims of the plague with her magical touch. Hailed as the Goddess Diana incarnate by her fellow nuns, who are revealed to be female members of the beleaguered Knights Templar, she continues her quest for her "Beloved," Luc de la Rose, whom she must couple with in order to continue the Race. The author is at her best relating in gruesome detail the sweeping effects of the Black Death on provincial life. Otherwise, this meandering narrative is plagued by the sophomoric use of proper nouns (Evil, Race, Sight, etc.), overwrought dream sequences and one-dimensional characters. Kalogridis aims to depict Sybille as an incandescent and mysterious heroine, but she comes across as a melodramatic caricature. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
In her latest novel, Kalogridis makes an abrupt departure from "The Diaries of the Family Dracul" series, which told the stories of Vlad the Impaler. Set in 14th-century France, The Burning Times recounts the story of Sybille, born a commoner but descended from a very old and revered race of psychically gifted men and women who have the power to heal the sick and see the future. Unfortunately, not everyone honors those with such power, and when her grandmother is tortured and burned at the stake by the Inquisition, Sybille inherits her powers and becomes the physical embodiment of the Goddess. In her search for her Lord and soul mate, Sybille disguises herself as a Franciscan nun to escape the terror of the Inquisition. Although the theme of good triumphing over evil is an old one and has been told countless times through the centuries, the author presents a fresh and dramatic new view of an old, old story. The backdrop of the Hundred Years' War and the outbreaks of the Plague provide a dramatic and colorful setting to this story. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 12/00.] Jane Baird, Anchorage Municipal Libs., AK Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
School Library Journal
Adult/High School-Carcassonne, France, October, 1357: Michel is a dedicated Dominican monk learning the rules of the Inquisition. He adheres to the church doctrine to rid it of heretics. In only his second inquisition, the scribe encounters Mother Marie Franchise (born Sybille) in the depths of a dungeon. She stands accused of witchcraft and will confess only to the novice. Over three days, she tells the story of Marie Sybille de Cavasulle, born with a caul over her face. She speaks of her grandmother's lessons in magic and healing, and talks of descending from a race of goddesses, all of which led her from her village to seek her future disguised as a nun searching for her people and her soul mate. In learning about her life, Michel learns about his identity. So begins an adventure full of dangers, mythology, witchcraft, and Gnosticism. Kalogridis re-creates with colorful accuracy the Inquisition, the Black Death, and the Hundred Years' War. Although the dream sequences are confusing, the historical depictions are done well. While not a must, this engrossing tale is a nice addition.-Linda G. Sinclair, Alexandria Library, VA Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.

Product Details

Publication date:
Edition description:
1st Scribner Paperback Fiction Edition
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Product dimensions:
0.89(w) x 5.00(h) x 8.00(d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

It is a hard, deafening rain.

Fast, malignant clouds shroud the moon and stars, and the softer velvet black of the night sky; profound darkness veils all, save for those instants when lightning illuminates the distant mountains, and I see:

My galloping mount's coat gleaming like onyx, his wet mane whipping like a Medusa's crown in the angry wind; see, too, the road to Carcassonne before us, studded with stones, brambles of wild rose, and bushes of rosemary that yield their astringent fragrance as they are crushed beneath the horse's hooves.

Rosemary brings memories; roses are not without thorns; stones are hard.

Hard as the rain: in the flash, it appears long, jagged, crystalline — a hail of icicles, of small, frozen lightning bolts. They pierce and sting, and though it seems right that this moment should be physically painful, I feel a welling of pity for the stallion. He is exhausted, gasping from the long, strenuous run; even so, when at last I rein him in, he fights me, rearing his head.

As he slows reluctantly, lifting strong, graceful legs to pace sidelong, I put one palm flat against his shoulders and feel the muscles straining there.

He is sensitive, my steed, in the way most animals are, though he does not possess the Sight: he cannot see those pursuing us, but he can sense the Evil residing in one particular heart. He shivers, but not from the autumn chill, and rolls his great dark eyes to look questioningly back at me; I can see terror in the whites.

We have fled our enemies this long; why, now, do we wait for them?

"They will not hurt you," I tell him softly, and stroke his neck as he whinnies in protest. His coat is cold and soaked from sweat and rain, but underneath, the muscles emanate heat. "You are a fine horse, and they will take you where it is warm and dry, and feed you. You will be treated kindly."

Would that I should encounter the same.

In that instant, I want to weep, hard and bitter as the rain; hard, so very hard. The stallion senses this and, distressed, increases his pacing. I collect myself and give his wet neck another stroke. My pursuers would say I was casting a spell on the poor animal; but I know it is only the opening of one's heart to another creature, the unspoken sharing of calm — a true calm I must look deep within myself to find. One cannot lie to animals.

I am almost near the end of my journey, but the Goddess has spoken: there is no further use in running. Should I continue to flee and my Enemy to chase, none of it will save my poor Beloved. Surrender provides my only chance — a slender one, fraught with risk, and my Sight will not reveal the outcome. I shall live, or I shall die.

Soon the horse and I fall silent and still. The rain has eased, and in the absence of one noise, I hear another.

Thunder, but there is no lightning in the sky.

No; not thunder. Hoofbeats — not one pair, but several. We wait, my steed and I, until they come closer, closer, closer....

And out of the darkness appear four, seven, ten cloaked men on horseback — the very ones I have Seen in my mind's eye all the dark hours of my flight now materialized in the flesh. A black cloud slips to reveal a slice of new moon, and the glint of metal: nine of these men are gendarmes from Avignon, from the pope's personal cadre. I am encircled. They close in, drawing the noose tighter, and lift their swords.

New moons are for beginnings; this one bodes an end.

I and my stallion remain perfectly composed, perfectly still.

Suspicious, some of the gendarmes face outward: where are my protectors? Certainly, they lie in wait nearby, ready to spring on my captors; certainly, they would not have simply abandoned me, a small and unarmed woman, their supposed witch-queen.

Ah, no; 'twas I who tried to make my escape without them — but so loyal were they that they soon found and joined me. And when the Goddess demanded my surrender — mine, not theirs, for She had need of their service elsewhere — I sent them away. At first they refused to leave me; indeed, Edouard swore he would die first. I could only close my eyes and open my mind, my heart to theirs, that they might hear the Goddess as I did.

Edouard sobbed as though his heart would break; the others' faces were obscured by their hoods, but I sensed the silent tears streaming down their cheeks. We said no more; needed say no more, for all was known. Thus my brave knights rode away.

And now I watch three of the Enemy's men leap from their horses to plunge swords into sparkling blackberry brambles, into thick, tall foliage, blades whistling as bits of leaf and stem go flying. One man climbs up into a nearby olive tree and hacks off branches until he is satisfied no one waits in ambush.

Mystified, they return to their mounts' sides and stare at me as I continue to sit, calm and quiet as my stallion. Darkness or no, I see fear upon the gendarmes' faces. They wonder why I do not simply bewitch them — turn them into swine, perhaps, and escape.

All of them, that is, except the tenth man, who feels quite certain this capture is his doing. This is the cardinal Domenico Chrétien. Unlike the others, who are cloaked in somber black, he wears upon his back and head the color of blood. His countenance is broad and plump, with upper and lower lips of crude thickness, and eyes hidden in deep folds. His body is likewise soft, belying the heart within.

Commandingly, he calls: "The Abbess Mother Marie Françoise?"

This is the Enemy. We have met only once upon this earthly plane, though on another we are old acquaintances. It is difficult not to look upon him with familiar contempt. So filled with self-loathing is he that he would kill anyone who reminded him of what he is. There is only one alive capable of greater harm to my people — the one I have come to stop, lest I and my Race be obliterated from the face of this world.

"The same," I reply to his question. I struggle, and manage to conquer my hate; to do otherwise would make my soul as closed as his.

"You are under arrest on the charge of heresy, witchcraft, and maleficium directed at the Holy Father himself. What say you?"

"That you know better than I of what I am guilty."

A humble admission on the face of it, but my Enemy understands this veiled rebuke, and his expression subtly darkens, though he dare say nothing in front of his men — his men, who have no idea what is actually happening here, who would not believe if they were told. "You will come with us, Abbess."

I do not resist; indeed, I give a nod of compliance. Even so, I am pulled roughly off the horse, who rears, knocking down one of the guards and causing minor alarm until he is at last subdued. As I had told him, he is a fine mount; the gendarmes appreciate this, and one of them takes hold of his reins and speaks soothingly until the animal is reassured.

As for me, I am stripped of the cloak that hides my dark habit, veil, and wimple, and my arms are bound behind my back; then I am flung facedown over the back of a different horse and tied to the saddle. One man murmurs: "Now there's the perfect position for a highborn lady."

The others snort faintly at this, but no one laughs, even though I am bound, outnumbered, and apparently at their mercy. In the silence that quickly follows, I hear their fear.

It is a difficult ride home. My face slaps against wet horseflesh, and when the rain begins again in earnest the back of my habit is quickly soaked through, leaving my spine aching with cold. Water runs down my arms and legs and neck. Inverted, my veil grows heavy with rain and soon falls; my wimple slips, leaving my shorn head exposed, letting the rain spill into my ears and nose and eyes.

I try to comfort myself: it is the Goddess's will. It is my life's mission, foretold from my birth.

On the way to my destiny, the horse from time to time steps upon and crushes pungent herb; I close my stinging eyes in pain at its perfume.

Rosemary brings memories.

Copyright © 2001 by Jeanne Kalogridis

Meet the Author

Jeanne Kalogridis is the author of The Diaries of the Family Dracul, a historical vampire trilogy, and wrote for the bestselling Star Trek series under the pseudonym J. M. Dillard. She lives in California.

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The Burning Times 3.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 11 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This one is up there with that! It's not specifically Arthurian, but definitely a novel of the Craft and the Old Ways, and the protagonist is an Abbess of a convent and also a witch... Her life and growing up in the old ways and need to hide her abilities is very easy to sympathize with. This author has either done a lot of research or is a priestess herself, as she knows what she's talking about. :)
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Guest More than 1 year ago
This dull book is about religion and romance but its relationship to France is meaningless. The author has little appreciation for French history or culture, and the book could have been set anywhere. If you want to know about French history and the Avignon region, go elsewhere.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I really enjoyed this book. Not only did it keep me guessing until the very end, but the twist was also very entriguing, and I totally didn't see it coming. It paints a wonderful picture of France in the 1300's, with a mysterious and entertaining religious and magical backdrop at the same time. Definitely something I'd recommend, especially if you can find it on sale!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I picked this book up because it looked interesting to me (I love historical fiction mixed with turbulent religious times) and it was a 'bargain book' as well! What a surprisingly wonderful story! It captured me from the first few pages and kept me hooked until the last paragraph in the epilogue!! I would recommend it highly. This book uses witchcraft, Christianity and mythology against the backdrop of war and the Black Death in 14th century France to captivate the reader. The main character is Sybille, a midwife who is taught the pagan ways by her beloved grandmother, but must seek the refuge of Franciscan nuns in a convent during the Inquisition. Is Sybille a witch or a Catholic saint? You'll be guessing the answer to that question up until the very end of the novel! A great page-turner!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I loved this book. If you are not spiritually inclined, you can read it as a great magical fairy tale (with a very real historical background). But if you are open to the spirituality presented through Sybille, this book might inspire you to search out and follow your own destiny. Either way, it is a great read!
Guest More than 1 year ago
This Book was GREAT!! It kept the me on the edge of my seat. I didn't want to put it down. It is beautifully written and I think Jeanne Kalogridis used language wonderfully. The details she used were great. In the end it all came together. I hope she writes another book about Sybille and Luc and their adventure through France at that time. I would tell everyone to read this book. And I hope to read more of Jeanne Kalogridis' stories.
harstan More than 1 year ago
In 1357 France, the Inquisition agents of Cardinal Chretien arrest Franciscan Abbess Marie Francois. They charge her with heresy for practicing pagan rituals and magic, and for communicating with the devil. They plan to burn Marie at the stakes so she can serve as an example to those who stray from the right path of worshipping God.

The reluctant Dominican scribe, Michel, who prefers to save souls, rather than dispatch people to the next life, is chosen to obtain Marie¿s confession. However, Michel feels Marie is pure, good, and holy instead of an evil witch. He decides to prove her innocent of the charges even after she admits her grandmother taught her the pagan ways. Forced to flee Marie whose birth name is Sybille joins the ¿Race¿ and seeks out her lover Luc de la Rose for the good of her ¿people¿.

THE BURNING TIMES is at its best when it stays with fourteenth century realities like the Black Plague, the French Inquisition, the burning of witches at the stakes, and the pagan religions. When the plot veers into fantasyland, it loses speed as a different type of tale emerges. Likewise, key characters are impacted especially the heroine. As Marie she is an incredible individual struggling against a rising tide, but as Sybille she seems mythological as if she truly is Diana the Huntress. Known for her vampire tales, Jeanne Kalogridis has written an intriguing historical fiction that will attract readers, but the talented author took too big of a bite with this story line(s).

Harriet Klausner