Thursday, October 16, 2014

BOOK REVIEW: The Sharp Hook of Love by Sherry Jones

The Sharp Hook of Love by Sherry Jones is an extraordinary book. It has all the right elements in place to be a must read. It’s medieval historical fiction, set in my favorite time period (twelfth century), in Paris. And it tells the story of Abelard and Heloise. So I knew I wanted to read it. But I was thrilled by how quickly I fell in love with the book–and it never disappointed.

If you look at top ten lists of all time great love stories (which are always tragic), some couples will pop up repeatedly: Romeo and Juliet, Antony and Cleopatra, Lancelot and Guinevere... Some of the couples are fictional, some are real. But one couple who should make every list is Heloise and Peter (Pierre) Abelard. Not only were they real people, but their affair is documented and their love letters survive. And the tale has everything.

No spoilers here, but some background: Abelard was one of the greatest twelfth century minds–a philosopher and teacher. Heloise was another brilliant person of the era, but a particular oddity since she was a woman. Brought up by an uncle, she was permitted to learn and had achieved a reputation for her intelligence. That attracted the interest of Abelard. As a woman, she could not attend the Parisian schools. In order to further her education, her uncle hired Abelard to be her private tutor.

Abelard was not only gifted, but arrogant, handsome, dashing, charming, etc. He was a man of influence with a great many friends and enemies. Heloise was a strong-willed young woman and a beautiful one. They fell in love and became lovers.

Then (as now) a teacher is not supposed to seduce a student. In addition, Abelard was supposed to be abstinent. And it goes without saying that Heloise was supposed to be chaste. So, by breaking all the rules, they were setting themselves up for a fall.

Sherry Jones tells the story from Heloise’s point of view, using fragments from the surviving letters to introduce the chapters and set the tone. She is able to capture the brilliance of these two extraordinary people and the electricity of the meeting of their minds. It’s possible to believe that the passion springs from that excitement, even though passion soon takes over and the meeting of their bodies consumes more of their time than the lessons Heloise is supposed to be having.

The author paints these larger-than-life characters with an exquisite attention to detail. They are very real and flawed, and though the reader may wince at some of their choices, it’s also easy to see how the choices were made. It would not be easy to live in those times, much less to live, love, and leave behind such a legacy as Abelard and Heloise did with their writings and their story. With The Sharp Hook of Love, Sherry Jones has given us a beautifully written, passionate, fresh look at that legacy.

Disclaimer: I received this book free from Netgalley. This did not influence my review.

This is my 19th book read for the historical fiction challenge hosted by Historical Tapestry.


  1. Wow! What a wonderful, thoughtful review! I am honored, Susan. Thank you so much for reading and reviewing this book, itself such a labor of true love for me.

  2. Also, if any of your readers would like to read the prologue and first chapter of THE SHARP HOOK OF LOVE, they can sign up for my newsletter at Soon I'll add an ebook of the lovers' early love letters,with artworks depicting the couple over the ages, to the Swag offerings, and they'll have access to that, too.

  3. Was so happy to receive an email from letting me know that Sherry Jones was having a book reading in Spokane. It was so fun seeing her and her friends dress is costumes of the time and read from her book. It is not my usual genre, but I love reading this book. I have just finished chapter two and already a fan! She has an amazing ability to transport the reader into twelfth century Paris. I am intrigued with the way she portrays Heloise so far, a mixture of necessary obedience to the times and an a wise, what I would call, feminist awareness. This is certainly not a "damsel in distress" book, like those of my mother's generation. I love it!