From the best-selling author of Chocolat and Five Quarters of the Orange comes this rapturous and page-turning story of devotion, deceit and religious persecution set in 17th-century France. In Holy Fools, Joanne Harris departs from the culinary themes she is known for, but the result is no less delicious. Her trademark sensory descriptions infuse the novel with rich historical and atmospheric detail, and she vividly captures the religious upheaval of the era.
Fluidly interwoven story lines unfold the present and past life of Juliette, a traveling circus performer who becomes enamored with the Machiavellian leader of the troupe, LeMerle, who shamelessly abandons her to a group of murderous religious zealots. Juliette, who is secretly carrying LeMerle's child, manages to escape and seeks refuge in a remote abbey, reinventing herself as a widow and religious devotee. But her serene existence is shattered five years later with the appointment of a new Abbess who arrives with LeMerle in tow, audaciously masquerading as a priest. What ensues is a spellbinding battle of wits between Juliette and LeMerle, who is bent on orchestrating a dangerous game of revenge against a long-time enemy by using Juliette, her daughter and the nuns as expendable pawns. Without exposing her own checkered past or succumbing to LeMerle's seductive charms, Juliette must save the abbey from his villainous machinations. The tension builds to a breathtaking crescendo, with a theatrical showdown that brings twists, turns and surprising revelations. This is a dark, seductive exploration of passion and repression that plumbs the depths of the human psyche with its superb and penetrating characterizations; the contrast between Juliette's wise and generous spirit and LeMerle's base immorality makes for a bewitching interplay of good and evil, sinner and saint. The cleverly ambiguous conclusion leaves us with many provocative questions to ponder, such as the possibility of LeMerle's redemption and the mystery of Juliette's destructive devotion to her betrayer. With its inspired themes and sharp observations, Holy Fools is Joanne Harris' most ambitious and unforgettable novel to date. Joni Rendon writes from Hoboken, New Jersey.