The Illuminator

Brenda Rickman Vantrease

St. Martin's Press

It is England, in the late fourteenth century, a time when the whim of a lord or the pleasure of a bishop can seal nearly anyone's fate. The printing press has yet to be invented. Books, written only in Latin or Norman French, are rare and costly, painstakingly lettered and illuminated with exquisite paintings---far beyond the reach of ordinary people.

But there are cracks in the old feudal order---and in the absolute power of the Church. Finn is a master illuminator who works not only for the Church but also, in secret, for the heretical Oxford cleric John Wycliffe. Under the nose of the powerful Abbot of Broomholm, Finn illuminates pages for Wycliffe---an English translation of the Bible, meant to bring the word of God to the masses. And Finn has another secret, one that will lead both himself and his beloved daughter into ever-increasing peril.

Lady Kathryn, the mistress of Blackingham Manor, is a widow who finds herself caught between the King's taxes and the Church's tithes. To protect her sons' inheritance, she strikes a bargain with the abbot---Kathryn will take in the illuminator and his daughter, and gain the monastery's protection. What begins as a hesitant friendship between Finn and Lady Kathryn grows into a passionate alliance that touches off a chain of betrayals, tragedies, and unexpected acts of heroism.

Richly detailed and irresistibly compelling, The Illuminator is a glorious novel of love, art, religion, and treachery at an extraordinary turning point in history.


Read an Excerpt


John Wycliffe put down his pen and rubbed tired eyes. The candle burned low, spitting tendrils of smoke. It would burn only minutes longer, and it was the last. Only the middle of the month, and he'd exhausted his allotment. As master of Balliol College, Oxford University, he was afforded what would be adequate for most clerics--for most, who worked by day and slept by night. But Wycliffe scarcely slept during the nighttime hours. Purpose drove him from his bed early and kept him from it late.

The orange glow from the charcoal brazier did little


Praise for The Illuminator

Advance Praise for The Illuminator

"A wonderful novel---a tumultuous panorama of Wycliffe's and Chaucer's England, with an absolutely compelling and irresistible heroine. This is historical fiction in the grand epic manner, beautifully felt and written."
- Max Byrd, author of Shooting the Sun

"In her elegant novel, The Illuminator, Brenda Rickman Vantrease breathes light into the dark corners of feudal England, laying bare the consequences of political and spiritual oppression, and illuminating the power of both love and the written word to save."
- Charmaine Craig, author of The Good Men: A Novel of Heresy

"A very absorbing and masterfully written novel that twines two stories together---a personal one of life on a manor in 1379 and a political one about the undercurrents that led, eventually, to the Reformation. Impressive new talent Brenda Rickman Vantrease has created a cast of characters that stand out as individuals you want to follow."
- Margaret George, author of The Autobiography of Henry VIII

"Brenda Rickman Vantrease's The Illuminator is one of the most engaging books I've had the pleasure to read in many years. Extraordinary characters of an extraordinary period in history are portrayed with a passion that only an accomplished writer can deliver. . . . This is simply a wonderful book."
- Terry Kay, author of The Valley of Light

"A rich and original debut novel. Brenda Rickman Vantrease writes with a strong voice, imaginative scope, and an audacious reach about complex characters during a fascinating historical period."
- Valerie Miner, author of The Low Road

"The Illuminator is a novel with something for every reader. It has young love, older love, political plot and intrigue, and religious and philosophical conflict presented as grand adventure. . . . Each detail is telling, pitch perfect, important. The relationships are complex, engrossing. Vantrease's feel for time and place is natural. This book absolutely glows."
- Frances Sherwood, author of The Book of Splendor

Reviews from Goodreads



  • Brenda Rickman Vantrease

  • Brenda Rickman Vantrease is a former English teacher and librarian who has traveled extensively in the British Isles. She holds a doctorate in English from Middle Tennessee State University and lives in Nashville, Tennessee. The Illuminator is her first novel.
  • Brenda Rickman Vantrease






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    The Illuminator

    Brenda Rickman Vantrease



    St. Martin's Press