Visit our new site at

Monday, July 23, 2007

RevGalBookPals Discussion: A Vision of Light

Since we’re well into the summer vacation season, the RevGalBookPals chose a “lighter” selection for this month’s book discussion. A Vision of Light by Judith Merkel Riley features one of the most engaging heroines in historical fiction, Margaret of Asbury. I hope you enjoyed traveling back to fourteenth century England to meet her.

There are a lot of interesting characters in this story, but let’s start our discussion with Margaret.

Why do you think Margaret was granted the Vision of Light and its healing power?

Do you think that Margaret’s faith and her relationship with God are portrayed convincingly in the book?

The gift of healing got Margaret into trouble with the church of her day. How would your church react if a member claimed to have this gift?

Brother Gregory is Margaret’s antagonist at the beginning of the story. How and why does his attitude toward her change?

Why is it so important to Margaret to learn to read and write?

In my opinion, Margaret’s second husband Kendall is the hero of the book. Do you agree?

Contemporary historical fiction depicting strong women protagonists often ascribes anachronistic attitudes to them or to other characters in the novel. Do you think the author avoided this common problem?

In some ways the church in fourteenth century England is also one of the characters in the book. In what ways did the church of that time provide for the needs of the people and in what ways did it fail to do so?

That’s enough from me. Now it’s your turn to join in the discussion by leaving your comments. Like it? Love it? Meh? Fie --Away With It?

There are two sequels to Vision of Light that carry forward Margaret’s story. If you’d be interested in the BookPals reading the next novel in the trilogy, In Pursuit of the Green Lion: A Margaret of Ashbury Novel (Margaret of Ashbury Trilogy), please let us know.

The next RevGalBookPals discussion is August 27. The book selection is Grace (Eventually): Thoughts on Faith by Anne Lamott.


  1. I enjoyed the book. Would have missed it if you hadn't suggested it for the RGBP's discussion.
    Kendall is the hero of the book.
    Margaret character is spoken of as "innocent" too many times. She is resourceful and trusts God to get her through troubles. The urge to learn to read and write is powerful. It must have been horrible to be a woman during that time where so much was kept (they thought by God's law!) from women.

  2. I loved this book! And I've actually read the entire thing in time!

    I wondered about the "anachronistic " issue, having read that criticism before I read the book. I didn't find that to be the case at all. I have done some reading about women during the time period in question -- the mystics of the church, and midwives and healers -- and have often discussed with my high school students the prevalence of the accusation of witchcraft against women who seemed to have knowledge that others did not, particularly when things went badly for those in their care. (Interestingly, many of my students have been the children of physicians and have been very sensitive and sympathetic to accustations of "malpractice" against medieval women.)

    But the point...I was struck repeatedly by how deeply dependent Margaret was on men, or the absence thereof, for her well-being. I think the book portrays with great accuracy the difficulty a woman would have had in choosing a life for herself, extricating herself from a violent marriage, supporting herself, etc. Not so different for women in much of the world today.

  3. I actually read this one! All the way through too.

    It was a mixed bag. The story was interesting and engaging if perhaps a bit far fetched. Perhaps more than "a bit." It doesn't help that I live with a PHD student whose specialty is this time period and the Black Death in particular. (mounting evidence it was NOT bubonic plague, if it was cats didn't help in fact having a cat around could be a BAD thing since plague goes almost immediately to pneumonic (sp?) form in cats and once that happens you WILL get it from them and pneumonic form is the deadliest.)

    So the historical accuracy I'd call 'passing'. The author obviously did more than read a few bodice rippers but stuck pretty well with the traditional view of things, not really paying attention to modern scholarship.

    While Margaret avoided some of the pitfalls of these types of books (she didn't learn archery or sword fighting) she still had some very modern ideas that I often wondered at. Her demand for cleanliness, her obsession with washing, her treatment of food. She was clearly set out as more modern.

    Yes, I'd agree with making Kendell the hero of the book though I thought his introduction and the buildup of their relationship was given short shift. It felt rushed and hurried.

    I enjoyed the book, though I found Margaret a bit too innocent at times and then shifting into shrewdness at others. My pet peeve? Books that just drop off half way through as an obvious setup for the sequel.

  4. I enjoyed the book and found it a great diversion from the rest of my days last week hosting VBS. And I even finished it! I am probably up for reading and discussing the sequel(s)...

    I too have done some reading on mysticism and women in the 14th century. I felt the author offered a good picture into life in those days, and sadly life for many women in the world today. Women who remains possessions of men and therefore can be treated anyway the man chooses. It may not have been a fully accurate picture but it was a snapshot and engaging.

    I loved the character of Hilde and the travelling band of entertainers. It was delightful to learn that Brother Gregory and Brother Malachi knew each other, and why.

    Kendall was indeed the hero in that the author could show that even in times and places of severe mysogony (sp?) some men are still able of being humane, kind, wise in a broad and deep way, and able to know women for more than just another piece of property. I think that is always true for every culture and time.

    I did not like the end. I would have anticipated Kendell arranging better protectors for Margaret, not just financial, but a male guardian to protect her from his sons. He was portrayed as wise enough to have anticipated what the sons did. And I felt the end was rushed, not well developed and, as I now know, an obvious set up for a sequel.

    In terms of the church, I thought the author did a nice job weaving payments and indulgences into the politics of the church, of showing the fear and control of the church over anyone who tread on it's domaine, as Margaret did by healing people. I thought Gregory was an interesting character in his insincere efforts to be humble - I mean he thought he was trying to be humble. His abbot saw through him, and his thoughts through out the book continued to play this out. It was delightful to read his inner dialogue and think about how we fool ourselves with our piety...hopefully not for long, but nonetheless...

    Not a book I would have read if it hadn't been pointed out to me here, so thanks for some fun!

  5. Okay, first -- is this a coffee book group or a wine book group? I want to make sure I'm prepared!

    I did not understand the ending at all until I read this today. I read the last 10 pages maybe 4 times -- I still don't understand the last page, but do now understand why I don't. Sequels. Brrrr.

    I agree with the others about the character being inconsistently time-appropriate and way too modern. Also about the "bodice-rippers" -- the writing itself drove me crazy for about 150 pages.

    To Quotidian Grace's actual questions: if this happened in my church we would freak out. Period. With God's grace we might get through it, but weird lighting, passing out, and healing would be a lot for my suburban mainline church. I don't know why she rec'd the gift (other than as "payment" for her horrible life, which is a little easy) -- God does not tend to share Her/His reasoning with me.

    I don't think Brother Gregory did change his view, really. He made certain exceptions for her (like she learned quickly, much like a smart dog), and his endocrine system kicked in, but change his views? I don't think so.

    I don't think Kendall is the hero. He is more the deus ex machina -- God appearing at a convenient time to tidy everything up. The Margaret/Hilde relationship is the hero, if there is one...much like Ruth/Naomi. Brother Gregory's sudden self-awareness (which came out only in his conversation with Margaret) is setting him up for heroism.

  6. Great discussion,everyone!

    Tandaina's comments about historical accuracy and anachronism in the novel are intriguing.

    Elane brings a different viewpoint about Brother Gregory that I'm pondering. Without giving anything away, let me just say that having read both the sequels--Brother Gregory grows as a character.

    Hilde/Margaret as a Naomi/Ruth model? I hadn't thought of that, but I think it's a good analogy.

  7. There are sequels?!? I didn't even think of that. I hated how the book ended, so I better go to my library's website and request the sequels.

    I really liked the book. The two best parts were when the devil husband got his comeuppance and when Kendall entered the picture.

    I felt sorry for Margaret all the way through the book. But I put it down being so thankful that I was not born in that time.

    As Tandaina said, I found the innocent/shrewd flip-flop to be a little unbelievable. But I'll say that overall, I enjoyed this novel. It has been one of the better ones I have read, and I am looking forward to recommending it to others.

  8. According to my search just now, Water Devil is the third book in the trilogy. The sequel to this one is called In Pursuit of the Green Lion. Is this correct? If so, someone needs to change that at the end of the post.

  9. I love A.lin's comment about devil husband's "comeuppance" -- made me chuckle.

    I, too, enjoyed Margaret and Hilde's relationship. In fact, I identified with Hilde and I think she was my favorite supporting characters.
    As to what would happen if a person claimed to have that power in our congregation --- well, claiming and actually having it to me are two different things.

    There were times I felt as though the writing had the influence of our values placed into how the book was written, but I would probably do the same thing and makes it that much more interesting - I mean, it is a novel to read and enjoy!
    I did feel as though the ending did kind of get thrown in there as the carrot to the sequel -- so we would want to read another one!

    I have on hold the sequel to this book --- hopefully I will get it before too long - I had to get it through interlibrary loan.

    I have really enjoyed reading the comments of the other readers so far - keep them coming.

    also I am reading Lamott's book now too - and enjoying these short stories!

  10. Elane,

    At present, I have the coffee brewing until someone brings out the wine. I have some freshly picked figs that I need to share with this group!!!

    We have an abundance of figs in this town at present!

    I hear we will have some wine or beverage of choice this afternoon by the pool. Wonder if the author will join us?

  11. A. Lin--
    Sorry I confused the sequence of the sequels in this trilogy. I'll post a correction!

    Now, back to the discussion!

  12. Thanks to Cathy, who emailed me the contact information on the author, I emailed her this morning and invited her to view the post and join the discussion.

    I wish I'd thought of this sooner--but hope she will see it in time!

  13. I enjoyed the book, too. I did wonder about the cleanliness/washing part. Where did she get that? It didn't say.

    It certainly makes her more embraceable by 21st century readers, especially in the US where we use a dozen kinds of products on ourselves on a normal day...

    Why did she get the gift? Why not? She was a humble person and God gave it to her.

    My denomination is quite mainline, but I have been in churches of the denomination where laying on of hands for healing...sometimes immediate and obvious physical healing...took place, and routinely.

    That's funny for me to think about, because if it happened in my current church it would probably be a big fuss.

    Will be really glad to catch up on the next ones. I was confounded by the ending and now I know why.

    Thanks for the great comments, everyone!

  14. I agree that the Margaret/Hilde relationship is the hero. That's a good way of looking at it.

    Kendall is the one character in the book who seems completely unrealistic to me.

  15. Kendall may have been unrealistic -- but he was the "knight in shining armor" -- sometimes I like the characters like that. I like my rose colored glasses on at times.

  16. I've only just started it (took me a while to get to the library), but I'm so glad that it's RGBP Recommended Reading, because I never would have found it otherwise. The questions are great... I'm just bummed that I'm not far enough along to play more!

  17. This is a little off topic, but appropriate because it may be helpful to some who may be checking out of the library.
    I know that we can check out books for two weeks at our library. For book discussions/book clubs that meet monthly sometimes that doesn't give enough time to read the book, especially if you have to get through interlibrary loan or if you are in "line" to get it.
    It may be that your library will allow you to check it out for an extended time - by special request. I will give you an example.
    Lamott's book Grace Eventually: Thought on Faith was on display at the library -- I got the book on Saturday and asked if I could keep it longer than the two weeks since it was for a book discussion. Well the library fairy behind the counter performed with her pixie dust and extended the check out time so I could have it until our next book discussion time.

    In addition, if the book is checked out from the local library, you can sometimes get it from another library through interlibrary loan.'s the time to be looking for August and September's book - and if you purchase both from Amazon at the same time - you get free shipping!

    Now...back to the discussion!

  18. I wondered about the anachronisms,too, as I read but also suspect that strong women are not a modern invention. I think we only get burned at metaphysical stakes these days?

    I read this during a silent retreat, the only non-scriptural reading I did for 9 days. I spent some time thinking about how grace worked in Margaret's life and in Brother Gregory's. So historical accuracy took a backseat for me. The contrast between Hilde's, Margaret's and Brother Gregory's sense of how God worked in their lives and how they might/should respond to it.

    Gregory has his own plan (and a very organized one at that), Margaret surrenders to God's plan. Yet both had sustaining faith.

  19. michelle, I appreciate the points you make. I too was less concerned with historical accuracy, willing to take it for the "fiction" it is and enjoy it.

  20. Reverend Mommy is having trouble commenting and emailing but can post to blog - she asked that a link be placed on here to her place since she has comments to Vision of Light - and she has read both sequels already! Wow!

  21. I am off to a conference to be Lutheranized for a week but have access to a computer. I have been waiting for this conversation. I read the book all the way through. I knew it was a part of a trilogy so the ending was what I expected.

    I feel like this is a modern-day retroed to the 14th century version of Candide. One momentous incident after another to get in all the elements that speak both to the 14th century and today. It wasn't a bad read, just (sigh)a bit boreing to me.

    The religious element was spectacular but it came in spurts rather than something she lived every day. I agree that the spectacular evidences of a personal relationship with God often are cyclic or occasional, I wonder if a woman of the high middle ages would have been so detached from Church and still have such moments of consolation. This is where I felt that the story was a bit anachronistic.

    I thought the author did a good job of dealing with some of the more horrific issues of the day, but there is just too much "miraculous saving" going on to make it possible.

    Glad you had me read the book tho. It was fun

  22. I really enjoyed this book. (It kept me busy while I was waiting for the HP book!) I have already bought the next two books. I loved the contrast of religious experiences. Margarets powerful experiences vs the religion of Brother Malachi.
    I found myself getting really upset with the treatment of the girls and women in the book. At one point I through the book accross the room, but returned to it moments later because I wanted to know what else would happen.
    Brother Greg reminded me of some men that I went to seminary with who seemed to think women were not really able to understand all that was being taught, they were just good parrots. I had many laughs thinking of how Brother Greg would have delt with my NT proff, who happend to be female.
    Thanks for the read, I would not have known about it otherwise!

  23. Well, as usual, I am behind. BUT my copy has arrived at the library, so I'll be reading it soon.


You don't want to comment here; instead, come visit our new blog, We'll see you there!

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.