Friday, June 23, 2006


The Witch of Cologne, Tobsha Learner, HarperCollins Publishers, 2003, 462 pp

I read this for one of the reading groups I am in. It is historical fiction with lots of sex. The setting is Cologne, Germany in the late 1600s. There is a power struggle going on between Lutherans and Catholics, but also between various princedoms of Germania. In addition, Charles X of Sweden, Louis XIV of France and Mahomet IV, Sultan of Turkey, are all vying for power and territory. It was an unsettled time and seems to attract historical novelists, as it has come up again and again in my reading of novels from the 1940s until the present.

The twist in this story is that Ruth, the main character, is a feisty Jewish woman who is trained in the cabalistic mysteries and in mid-wifery. She lost her mother, a Sephardic Jew, when she was very young. Inevitably she gets romantically involved with a Catholic canon. Into the mix are brought the Dutch philosopher Spinoza and a Spanish Dominican inquisitor, who was obsessed with Ruth's mother and intends to do away with Ruth.

So it goes on and on. The Catholic priests all have sexual issues. The Catholic women need a midwife who knows her business. Ruth wants intellectual freedom. Every time something terrible is about to happen to any main character, there is a miraculous rescue and the book has a sort of happy ending. The author has fulfilled all the criteria for a good historical romance and it was not boring but quite predictable.

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