I think good historical fiction fulfills two goals. It should entertain, as should all fiction. But it should also inform. Hedlund has done a good job in meeting those goals.
We have probably heard of Martin Luther and his role in the Reformation. But few of us may know how it came about that he married Katharina. We learn how that marriage developed as well as much about the conditions of the day.
As the novel opens, Katharina had been in a convent and was escaping. Some of Luther's writings had been smuggled in and the woman there were becoming enlightened. I was surprised to find that some of the women had been in the convent from a young age, perhaps five years old. Many were held there against their will. Some were terribly mistreated by the abbot. It was a dark time for the church and some of the priests were violent and immoral men.
Women who managed to escape, like Katharina, would make it to a sympathetic abbey and then be assigned for marriage. Katharina and her group ended up at Luther's abbey. Kate, as she came to be called, was a feisty one and refused to marry whom she had been assigned. She ended up being the last unwed woman and Luther, who did not want to ever marry, finally did so. He had come to appreciate Kate and her medicinal training. She was able to help Luther in providing treatment for his stomach ailment.
Hedlund has provided lots of historical detail about the time. We learn about the peasant uprising against the monasteries. Palaces of bishops and castles of nobility were attacked and burned. Many innocent men and women were killed. Luther's life was frequently in danger. He made some decisions that may have alienated the peasants but allowed the Reformation movement to continue.
Hedlund has added historical details in an Author's Note, identifying which parts of the novel are based on historical fact. There is a discussion guide too so this would make a good choice for a reading group.
I recommend this novel to those interested in the personal aspect of Luther and his wife and their role in the Reformation.
I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher for the purpose of an independent and honest review.