Knowledge of Angels, Paperback
4 out of 5 (4 ratings)


It is, perhaps, the fifteenth century and the ordered tranquillity of a Mediterranean island is about to be shattered by the appearance of two outsiders: one, a castaway, plucked from the sea by fishermen, whose beliefs represent a challenge to the established order; the other, a child abandoned by her mother and suckled by wolves, who knows nothing of the precarious relationship between Church and State but whose innocence will become the subject of a dangerous experiment.

But the arrival of the Inquisition on the island creates a darker, more threatening force which will transform what has been a philosophical game of chess into a matter of life and death...




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Showing 1 - 4 of 4 reviews.

Review by

A novel of ideas - debates between an agnostic and some dedicated christians - a philospher following Aquinas, and the devil incarnate in an inquisitor. And the feral child - who hadn't known god - and the reluctant nun. And some free love, and the utopian country of the agnostic, where engineers and artists are princes, and everyone believes as they wish...

Review by

Knowledge of Angels takes place on a remote island mostly full of monastics. Their lives get interrupted with two events which run in parallel plots: a man tossed overboard his ship is found upon the shore and shocks monks with his steadfast claim of atheism, and a wolf-child is discovered and taken in by nuns.Both disruptions challenge the faith of the monastics, as the two stories approach from opposite directions whether faith in God is either real or innate. Can a child raised by wolves and kept from the idea of God fathom anything about religion on her own? And how does a man who recognizes no need for God in his life, and instead finds strength in natural beauty and his own humanity, live a fulfilled life by religious standards?The dialogue between the monks and the atheist works thoroughly through classic proofs of God: Anselm, Aquinas, Descartes. Yet all of them fall short, not just because of the atheist's skepticism and questions but because faith ultimately comes from a place of emotion rather than reason. Yet reason seems to be the best criterion by which we separate human from other animals - so either the wolf-girl must affirm independent faith in the existence of the divine, or religion comes off looking no better than a human-made rather than divine institution.However, the book never especially makes a point one way or the other, nor does it even challenge the reader's stability in his or her own belief. The story is plodding and inconclusive, the theology has been done, and I was left uncertain what the author meant for her audience to get out of the book at the end.

Review by

Ursula Le Guin reportedly described this book as "beautiful and disturbing", and I can go with that. I didn't expect to like this; Jill Paton Walsh has left me cold on several previous occasions. But slowly, slowly, I was drawn in by the (alternate?) world presented. The proofs of God's existence parts were tiresome to me, since I've done Religious Studies to A Level and the first year of a philosophy degree, but the story formed around the idea of proving the existence of God is beautiful.<br/><br/>There's a sort of distance from the characters -- I'm not sure I liked any of them, that is -- but somehow I became deeply involved in the story anyway, and I think I'd even say I <I>loved</I> the characters despite not liking them. And oh, I was so sure everything would turn out alright, I wanted that ending so badly.<br/><br/>I may well read other historical novels by Jill Paton Walsh: this, I think, is something she's better at than thinly veiled mimicry of Dorothy L. Sayers.

Review by

It's funny how sometimes you end up reading two books back to back that turn out to be about the same thing, and in my case that 'thing' is the dramatic shift from Medieval to Renaissance Europe. 'Knowledge of Angels' isn't technically a historical novel -- it's set on an island 'somewhat like Mallorca, but not Mallorca, at a time somewhat like 1450, but not 1450'. I have to say this note at the beginning won me over almost immediately, and gives the whole novel the air of a fable. The island in question, that isn't Mallorca, is a richly imagined medieval Mediterranean society, with olive groves and wine, and fishermen sleeping in the sun, and whitewashed churches, and simple peasant folk. Everything is disrupted by two, perhaps three, outsiders, firstly, a castaway called Palinor who comes from a more enlightened society where one may believe what they like, and who personally declares himself an atheist, and secondly an orphan girl, Amara, raised by wolves. And the Inquisition -- once that turns up from Rome you know you're in trouble! The best parts of this book are the philosophical debates at the centre between Palinor and the island's most eminent religious teacher Beneditx, and between them, as Palinor, an engineer, slowly fixes fountains and machinery to make life easier for the working peasants. I found Amara's story a little harder to fix on to but I enjoyed her among the nuns -- a proper cat among the pigeons! This is a novel of ideas rather than characters or setting and yet both shine, I can tell they'll stay with me for a long while.This is the second of my Santathing presents this year, and I'm so grateful, I'm really glad I've read this book.

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