The Rebel Angels is the first novel in The Cornish Trilogy by Robertson Davies. The second and third books in the series are What's Bred in the Bone and The Lyre of Orpheus, respectively; the latter book was recommended to me so strongly by grundoon that I went out and found the whole trilogy at my friendly local public library. I'll write up the other books as I read them; for now, a few words about The Rebel Angels.

The plot is largely about the will of the late Francis Cornish, for whom the trilogy is named. Cornish was a well-known art expert, dealer, and collector, and in addition to his nephew Arthur, a businessman, he has designated three scholars --- theologian and priest Simon Darcourt, medievalist Clement Hollier, and Renaissance historian Urquhart McVarish --- to share in the responsibility of evaluating and distributing the drawings, paintings, and manuscripts accumulated over a long career. However, the story is also (and more importantly) about its characters, for instance Maria Magdalena Theotoky, a graduate student working closely with Hollier, and the former monk John Parlabane, both of whom are or become intertwined with the executors in a variety of ways. The book switches between Maria and Darcourt's perspective, told in the first person, but not annoyingly.

There's intrigue, there's scholarship, there's art, there's love. There's even a bit of Gypsy magic from Maria's mother, a grand lady of the Romany tradition who provokes Hollier's scholarly interest, but whose Tarot readings for Hollier and Darcourt shape the second half of the book. (I thought the novel was kind of slow at first, but Mamusia's involvement definitely sped things up in a spicy-fun way.) There's musings on the origins of academia that give the novel its title, but the dominant themes of the book are academic pride and passion, loyalty, and friendship, and it was of course that last that made everything worthwhile in the end; I liked the hilariously shocking plot twist but not the almost haphazard way in which loose ends were tied up, only not. But I guess that's what happens in the first book of a trilogy --- you have to leave some stuff hanging, or there won't be much to write about in the next two books.

Davies, Robertson. The Rebel Angels. Penguin Books, 1981.