Book Review by Nancy Julien Kopp:
Historical fiction brings the reader into another time period and can also tell a special story. Ernestine is Kate Reynolds’s debut novel, but she is no amateur when it comes to crafting a fascinating story that draws readers quickly and holds them right up to the end using beautiful and descriptive prose.
When only a child in the early 1500s, Ernestine learned how to cheat at betting games and became a fine bunco artist at her father’s tutelage. Once a young woman, she marries the man she loves, helps him run an inn in France, and is happy being nothing more than a loving wife. When Sebastian dies, she flees with documents he and his brother had hidden, documents that could be world-changing.
Ernestine takes the vows of a Clarissa nun and finds her way to an abbey in Spain near Granada. She knows she is being followed by a man who wants the documents she carried away. Hoping for safety in the abbey, she hides the documents but finds one problem after another amongst the 90 nuns. The Abbess is a kindly woman whose greatest love is caring for the olive groves the abbey owns. Keeping the accounts book is beyond her, and when she learns that Ernestine can work with figures, she begs the new nun to take over the Accounts Book. Reluctant to do so because of a problem with an account book in her past that might have led to her husband’s death Ernestine demurs but is finally persuaded.
Add to the story a priest who plays a betting game with Mother Faviola every week, always winning, a young novitiate who is hopelessly in love with a young man, a festival and parade which the Abbey has always won but is suddenly in peril, and Ernestine mixed up in all of it, and you have a very fine novel.
Taking place at the time of the Great Trials, or Inquisition, we see the effect on the everyday world of those whose vocation is often riddled with fear.
The supporting characters in the novel are realistic and also of interest to the reader. In particular, Luz, the oldest nun who is blind, draws Ernestine’s story from her as they work together in the cellary bit by bit and relates many of her own. As they work with the abbey’s foodstuffs in a series of caves, Luz tells Ernestina the Spanish term ‘pundonor’ which means ‘point of honor’ and is an integral part of Ernestine’s story.
I enjoyed learning more about this period in history where no nun or priest was protected from the Inquisition. I found the nun’s language of the fans fascinating as well as the beauty of the Alhambra surrounding the nuns who toiled in the olive groves and merely subsisted rather than thrived.
This is a many-faceted tale that has much more than what I have written here. Unpeel the many layers as you read. Find it on Amazon with both a Kindle edition and a paperback. I look forward to reading more novels by Kate Reynolds.
Nancy Julien Kopp lives and writes in the Flint Hills of Kansas. She has been published in various anthologies, including 23 times in Chicken Soup for the Soul books, websites, newspapers, and magazines.
Nancy writes creative nonfiction, poetry, fiction for middle grade kids, and short memoir. She shares writing knowledge through her blog, WriterGrannysWorld with tips and encouragement to writers.