A lyrical paean to feminine power, Karen Martin’s The Bringer of Happiness is part myth, part revisionist history and part time-slip adventure. It’s also the second title in Martin’s Women Unveiled series.
It opens with the birth of Sara, the ‘bringer’ of the title, both literal and figurative. An important point the novel is at pains to make early: happiness is seldom a passive act or sensation. As such, Sara brings with her an endearing determination as well as an intimidating lineage.
She’s the daughter of Mary Magdalene and a certain well-known Nazarene leader. Following a warm, richly detailed, warmly domestic account of Sara’s early life and those of the women raising her, the plot takes a swerve from everyday faith and small mysteries into peril and tension: Sara discovers a unique gift for inhabiting the bodies of other women through time, in a device that’s part Quantum Leap, part Time Traveller’s Wife, with a twist of Kate Mosse’s Carcassonne canon.
Sara leaps into a different French locale and time, Montsegur in the 13th Century. For those unfamiliar, this borough of southwest France is best known today for its Medieval castle, once the site of a protracted siege and its cruel aftermath.
Sara, her very existence a symbol of religious coexistence (Mary tries and fails to initiate her Nazarene into the veneration of the Godddess or Devine Feminine), must try to save her Monsegur host, a young Cathar woman. Catharism, thought to be a controversial, short-lived sprout from Catholicism that asserted the existence of two Gods, proved threatening enough to the Church to prompt a campaign to erase Catharism from Western Europe.
The Bringer of Happiness avoids the suggestion that either belief system represents an absolute truth of our existence, rather allows readers to draw their own conclusions. Martin melds Biblical characters and a little-known episode of French history to create a compelling narrative, filled with insights into female lives through history.