Sacred Hearts
Sarah Dunant

Random House
Hardcover/420 pages
ISBN: 978-0-8129-7405-8
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". . .a "roller-coaster" ride of action"

A story of love, honor, and deception, meticulously researched and written by a fantastic author of historical fact.

In the 1500's, as the author educates us, paying a marriage dowry was almost impossible, even for the noblemen living in Catholic Europe. They would need a miracle in order to marry off more than one daughter in the family. Because of this, the younger females were sent to convents for a much lesser payment. Almost half of the noblewomen in that time period became nuns, and there were some who did not go quietly…

We begin this intense book by meeting the nuns of Santa Cateria in Italy. This is a convent that is known far and wide as housing the most pious and well-rounded nuns. Their choir is talked about across the land, and the feasts they serve to the township rival that of the King's table. The Madonna Abbess has been in charge for quite some time. She is a smart woman, who knows what she must do to keep the convent running smoothly in order to gather the dowries she needs for the convent and its' sisters to survive. One evening, a young girl screams from the "cell" that she is placed in. her father has sent her to the convent to live, but there is a love outside the walls of her new prison that she would do anything to get back to. Her name is Serafina, and she is filled with a defiance that none of the sisters quite know how to deal with.

Soon, Zuana is sent to the cell. Suora Zuana is the head of the dispensary inside the convent. She was the only daughter of a medical man who passed on, and she's been the sister in charge of healing, and mixing concoctions and remedies that keep her cloister alive and well. As she enters the cell of the angry girl, she comes with a drug to sedate the child and let her sleep. This first meeting spawns a friendship that will have the power to change the course of Serafina's life, as well as the higher echelon that presides over the nuns.

Many of the nuns are interesting in the way they handle the "habit." Some are filled with the desire to change their environment. They want the group to become more pious and holy, by dropping the musical instruments, the feasts they give during Carnival and Easter, and the "silly" deeds they do to entertain the city. There are those who want to live poor and solitary lives so that they can be closer to Jesus; and, there are those who are in charge of secrets and deceptions that a nun should never play a part in.

Zuana and Serafina form a bond. At first, Zuana will do anything to calm the girl and try to explain the ways of their world so that she can give up her old life and have a happy future. She takes her under her wing in the dispensary to teach her the way of doctors, instructing her on the medicine and herbs that are needed to survive. Soon, however, the peacefulness of the convent is upended. First, there is a nun who sees the Lord at her bedside; then miracles begin happening in the church during prayer, such as blood appearing on the hands of the most righteous nuns, and a statue of Jesus, Himself, causing a panic right before their eyes. All of this happens while the newest girl in the Order is planning her escape from the unwanted cell and the chains that her father's money placed her in, to get back to the man she loves.

When all the schemes and deceptions come to fruition, this story becomes a "roller-coaster" ride of action. These fascinating women, all with their own agendas, keep the reader riveted to the book, wondering whose faith will overcome. Not only the story, but the descriptive scenery and intricate research that is offered on convents, religion, faith, and medicine mix with a powerful love story that offers the reader a true education. The author has outdone herself in every area of storytelling with this captivating book.

Reviewer: Amy E. Lignor