Rising fantasy star Douglass pens her best book yet. This historical epic is the first in a series that sheds light on the dark days of 12th century Europe and the Black Plague. The archangel Michael appears to Dominic friar Thomas Neville and charges him with closing a door into hell that has been open for three decades. As Neville journeys across the medieval landscape, encountering angels, demons, saints and witches, he comes to the horrifying realization that the armies of heaven and hell are preparing for the final battle—with his soul as a spoils of war.

Thomas is a less-than-likable hero, with narrow views of women and the world that accurately reflect the time he lives in. Nevertheless, Douglass draws him with such skill that he's still a sym-pathetic character, and Thomas' views expand as he battles external evil and his own personal demons. A wide range of secondary characters, both fictional and historical, are fully realized, and pre-Renaissance Europe comes hauntingly and disturbingly to life.

Douglass does take some liberties with the timeline, moving historical figures and battles around in time to suit her purposes. While history buffs might be disturbed, for plot purposes these changes work and don't detract from the authentic feel. By centering on one troubled individual in a time of social and intellectual upheaval, this tightly plotted novel achieves an epic scope without overwhelming the reader. Douglass creates an intricately shaded tale from the black-and-white world of medieval religion. (Jul., 448 pp., $26.95)
Reviewed by: 
Jen Talley Exum