Unfortunately, far into this novel I realized it was a sequel to a book I'd been eyeing for a while, The Illuminator. I still enjoyed this book without having any idea of its prequel's plot It stand well on its own.
This story focuses on the red haired Anna, (the next gen from the 1st book) a Lollard trying to make her way to England, seeking refuge from religious prosecution. We get an omnipresent view of other characters, but I was relieved that the strong willed and intelligent heroine didn't take everything over. While I like such a heroine, I've read 3 books in a row now with the same archetype; a change is nice. Gabriel, who is the subject of the witty title, I enjoyed more. His outdated thinking (for modern / intelligent readers) reflects his time, and his struggle to reconcile the good of his heart with the unease he has with his actions is very gratifying. Caught between loyalties, rights & wrongs, is hard for anybody, but so much more in those days when everything was so extreme. Vantrease certainly makes the in between points of history entertaining. The story focuses on the brave who fight for what they believe is a change for the better and the strong who wish to keep the status quo, then the people in the middle, like Gabriel, who struggle to find a place to fit in once the line of right and wrong are torn down and are up for reinterpretation. Then we have Henry V, who I was really sorry wasn't more apart of the story. His coping with the change of their time was interesting since he had so much less choice than all the others, despite all that he is a king. Last was Sir John, who was more showcased than analyzed as the others were. He was so distinct and constant that the whole book might have been a "glory hallelujah" to his Martyrdom. He felt the most real as a character but the least real as a flawed HUMAN; He is a hero from a fairytale, a shining ideal that you'll rarely, if ever, find in real life. The plot is not straight forward, there are conflicts everywhere and there's no real 'Main' conflict to resolve. It might have been Anna & Gabriel's relationship, there so many open threads as though the story could go on forever, but if the point was to elucidate the chaos and unsettlement of the time then Vantreage did so. For me, this is a story about where to find "mercy" and "grace" in your own personal revolution, when your world is falling apart and you have to not only survive the change but come out of it better in mind, body, and spirit.