A Mortal Glamour
Chelsea Quinn Yarbro
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Buy *A Mortal Glamour* by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro

A Mortal Glamour
Chelsea Quinn Yarbro
Juno Books
368 pages
February 2007
rated 4 1/2 of 5 possible stars

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Something is definitely not right at the convent la Tres Saunte Annunciation. Chelsea Quinn Yarbro’s restored and uncut A Mortal Glamour brings to life the plight and horrors that the good nuns of a fourteenth-century convent in France experience when one of their order, Seur Aungelique, succumbs to an all-too-human lust. Her apparent madness passes from nun to nun in an epidemic that’s potentially as bad for their eternal souls as the recurring Plague is for the populace at large. What is behind the strange behavior of the nuns? Is it pride, lust, tainted rye bread, a mass hysteria that spreads like wildfire; or, is it just possible that Satanic forces are responsible?

Yarbro also examines the Catholic Church’s outlook on the nature of men, women, and sex. Women are, in the eyes of the Church, fallen creatures, condemned to repeat the Original Sin of Eve. The only way they can come to redemption is through chastity and the confession of their sins on a regular basis. If all else fails, there’s always fasting, scourging, torturing, and, ultimately, burning at the stake for the sake of saving one’s immortal soul from the pits of Hell. Yarbro depicts the era with an expert’s eye for detail, an time when the options for women were often limited to either entering a convent or becoming a courtesan.

Seur Aungelique is at the convent at the demand of her father, who has given her the choice of either consenting to a marriage he has proposed or to enter a convent. She knows in her heart and soul that God has not called her to be a nun, but she doesn’t want to marry the man whom her father has chosen for her, an old hunchback who fills her with disgust. However, to the new Mother Superior, there can be no other course of action but that of submitting to God’s Will:

“There are no plans but those of God. There is no life but acquiescence in His Will, and those who spend their lives attempting to subvert His Will are worse than fools.”
A Mortal Glamour is a powerful tale of people torn between living the lives of saints or giving in to the desires that we all experience, that make us human. The problem is that giving in to one’s desires can mean turning away from God and His plan, which can also doom our souls. Seur Aungelique wants to know what it feels like to love, to lust, to have sex, so she runs away to try to find sanctuary at Un Noveautie, the establishment of the most accomplished courtesan is France, la Comtesse Orienne de Hautlimois. Though Orienne sympathizes with her plight, she’s afraid that aiding Seur Aungelique might provoke the ire of Aungelique’s father and cause the Church to crack down on her:
“For the time being, the Church ignores me officially, and that suits me very well. But if your father should insist that the letter of the law be served against me, then I will find myself in prison or worse, and you, ma Freree, would still have to go back to your convent.”
Rejected for the time being by Orienne and unable to get her cousin Pierre to take her away from the life of the convent by marrying her, she reluctantly goes back to the convent and the punishment that awaits her. Even days of fasting and performing vigils lying naked and prostrate before the altar do not quell the ardor of her desires, nor does her use of the scourge on her flesh. Not even Peree Guibert and Padre Bartolimieu’s efforts to hear her confessions and those of the other nuns are of any avail. Could the words of the mad Sister Seur Margueritte be true when she tells another nun, Seur Catant,
“The Devil has come here, and nothing is the same. I have seen him, fair as an angel, and he comes with ease to us, and we...he is like the Plague. One moment all is thriving and well, and the next all has sickened and in time it will fade and die. That is the way of the Devil.”
When Seur Aungelique screams out in the nights in her cell, claiming to have been visited by a demon in the form of a man to whom she’s taken a fancy since seeing him at Un Noveautie, a nobleman named Thibault, is she only dreaming? Is her behavior and that of the other nuns the result of the sexual repression of the era and a need to release long pent-up desires? Are the visitations of Thibault to the convent at night a product only of her wishes and dreams, or could it be that there really is a demon tempting and tormenting the nuns in an attempt to gain their souls? In the stirring and haunting A Mortal Glamour, Yarbro (perhaps best known as the creator of the heroic vampire Count Saint-Germain) has written a compelling look at the lives and lusts of fourteenth-century nuns struggling with the temptations of the flesh, a tale that will stay with you long after you put the book down.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at www.curledup.com. © Douglas R. Cobb, 2007

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