After reading the excellent War Brides by Helen Bryan not too long ago, I was excited to pick up her latest novel The Sisterhood. Bryan’s detailed depiction of different eras in her novels is truly remarkable. Her level of research and thoroughness make her novels must reads for me. The Sisterhood is a sprawling piece of historical fiction that will take the reader through centuries and around the globe; from 16th century Spain to modern America and many points in between readers are taken on a journey with a mysterious medal and a book that passes hands between many women
The story opens in 1552 in Andalusia, Spain inside Las Golondrinas Convent, narrated by Sister Beatriz, who writes of secret doctrines hidden in their convent passed down from their Foundress, who is hinted to be a descendant of the Virgin Mary. Bryan begins the story in 1552 in Andalusia, Spain inside Las Golondrinas Convent. The convent is old, with a history that predates its current Catholic occupants, and the nuns run an orphanage, are educated, and are well respected in the community. However, the Spanish Inquisition is threatening to unearth secret Jews and Moors in Spain and the nuns have reason to worry about what the Inquisition would find in an area that was ruled by Moors for many years. The nuns know that their gospel and Chronicle must be protected.
The modern storyline involves an adopted daughter of a middle class Georgian family. The Walkers are good God-fearing Baptists who have fallen in love with a child who was rescued in the aftermath of a hurricane in an unnamed location in South America. The miraculous survival of the girl becomes publicized as she was found in a boat, naked, except for a medal around her neck. She is taken to a convent, El Convento de las Golondrinas, where she is later adopted by the Walkers. The girl, renamed Menina, grows up in comfort and unaware of her link to the Spanish convent. Events lead her to the covenant and continue to unfold revealing new truths about herself, the lost medal, Chronicle, and the link between the two convents separated by the wide Atlantic Ocean.
The story unfolds at a nice pace. The reader gets a fulfilling backstory of the orphans from the original convent in Spain as well as a final climactic payoff as Menina finds treasure in the convent and in her own childhood possessions. Bryan manages to weave romance into many of the plots despite much of the action of the story taking place in convents. The only complaint some readers may have is Menina’s predictable love interest, but this is offset by the satisfying end to the story, which exemplifies the tradition of the many generations of women whose lives were dedicated to each other and their beliefs.
The level of complexity and research in this novel make it worthwhile, and the stories of the orphan girls and the nuns that raise, love and protect them are wonderful. Menina is a spunky heroine, a bridge between the modern and old worlds. The sister narrators throughout the story are well-developed and the reader gets to see their lives unfold throughout the story in a satisfying way.
The Sisterhood is a great historical fiction novel. I would recommend the book to anyone interested in the Catholic Church during the Spanish Inquisition, women’s place in religion and the home, and anyone who enjoys a good, sprawling story.
The Sisterhood is a solid piece of historical fiction, worth the purchase and one you will definitely talk about to friends!