February 23, 2024

Looking Back - Pope Joan

Looking Back... In an effort to transfer my book journal entries over to this blog, I'm going to attempt to post (in chronological order) an entry every Friday. I may or may not add extra commentary to what I jotted down in these journals.

Finished on February 7, 2002
Rating: 4.5/5 (Very Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

For a thousand years men have denied her existence--Pope Joan, the woman who disguised herself as a man and rose to rule Christianity for two years. Now this compelling novel animates the legend with a portrait of an unforgettable woman who struggles against restrictions her soul cannot accept.

When her older brother dies in a Viking attack, the brilliant young Joan assumes his identity and enters a Benedictine monastery where, as Brother John Anglicus, she distinguishes herself as a scholar and healer. Eventually drawn to Rome, she soon becomes enmeshed in a dangerous mix of powerful passion and explosive politics that threatens her life even as it elevates her to the highest throne in the Western world.

My Original Thoughts (2002):

I read this for The Book Spot group read [an online Yahoo group]. Informative and entertaining. A provocative work of historical fiction. Based on the legend of a female pope back in the 800s. Doesn't sound too exciting, does it? But the characters are well-drawn and the plot is a non-stop adventure. It's extremely readable (not a dry, boring paragraph to be found!), thought-provoking, and educational. There's a bit of romance that keeps things moving along, too. There is a significant amount of "near misses" for Joan and the reader must have a willingness to suspend disbelief in order to not be put off by Joan's incredible luck. I caught myself shaking my head several times, whispering, "Phew! That was close!" A real page-turner. Will read more by this author. Highly recommend.

My Current Thoughts:

I re-read Pope Joan a several years ago and was a little concerned it wouldn't be as good as the first time I read it. I was pleasantly surprised that it was just as entertaining. This is a wonderful book. Definitely a keeper!
Joan unwrapped the strips of linen, then gasped as she saw what they had concealed. It was a book, bound in the Eastern fashion with leather-covered wooden boards.

"It is my own," said Aesculapius. "I made it myself, some years ago. It is an edition of Homer—the original Greek in the front half of the book, and a Latin translation in the back. It will help you keep your knowledge of the language fresh until the time you can begin your studies again."

Joan was speechless. A book of her own! Such a privilege was enjoyed only by monks and scholars of the highest rank. She opened it, looking at line after line of Aesculapius's neat uncial letters, filling the pages with words of inexpressible beauty. Aesculapius watched her, his eyes filled with tender sadness.

"Do not forget, Joan. Do not ever forget."


  1. I read this a while ago and liked it very much.

    1. Mystica, I made read it again (for the third time) later this year. It's a great story!

  2. I remember reading this, probably with the same online reading group. I remember it being such a good read.

    1. Deb, I think I was just getting into historical fiction when I read this one. Definitely a winner!

  3. I loved this book when I read is so long ago. Glad you enjoyed the reread, too. Wish I could remember the names of the early online reading groups I belonged to... the Book Group List was one (even met a few members in Atlanta once) but there were also a couple others.

    1. JoAnn, I found a list of the groups that I belonged to in one of my reading journals. They were: Across the Fence/Books on the Fence, On the Porch Swing, The Book Spot, ArmchairReaders2, and Books.com. Like you, I met a few members from the original Books.com group in Cleveland in 1998. So much fun! We met Mary Doria Russell, Lorna Landvik, and Jill Kerr Conway. This was long before big author events, so we were thrilled, especially since there were maybe only 20 of us.


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