A Stolen Tongue

A Stolen Tongue by Sheri Holman. In one of those strange coincidences, both Past Poisons and the very next book on my stack involve Saint Catherine of Alexandria. In Holman’s tale, Friar Felix Fabri is on pilgrimage from Germany to Mount Sinai in 1483 to honor Catherine, his spiritual bride. He is accompanied by Lord Tucher and his son Ursus, a barber named Conrad and Archdeacon John Lazinus from Hungary. Their trip is disrupted by the discovery that the holy relics of Catherine are being stolen from their resting places in churches along their path. A mysterious woman, who claims that the saint speaks through her, and her older brother along with his Marmeluke servant add to the confusion. Felix assigns himself the task of recovering the relics, but is thwarted at every turn until the climatic scene upon the mount.

The book is written as a diary crafted by Fabri for his brothers at the Dominican monastery in Ulm in which he describes the hardships that 15th-century pilgrims face each day, whether aboard ship, in Saracen-controlled cities or while journeying across the desert sands. His writing also exposes his own secrets and sins as well as those of his fellow travelers. Through this method, the characters and journey are well-developed, but the mystery takes second billing. There are long stretches in the middle of the story with little progress being made towards its solution. This style may be a bit too slow for many readers and reminds me a little of The Grenadillo Box by Janet Gleeson, though the settings are completely different and the language more conversational.

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