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Lauren Groff’s latest novel, a finalist for the National Book Award, begins in the year 1158. Seventeen-year-old Marie de France has just been kicked out of the French royal court and sent to England, where she will be prioress of a crumbling abbey that’s home to sick and hungry nuns. Marie has absolutely no leadership experience and is shocked by the whiplash of her new life, but when faced with the challenge, she decides to step up. Groff details her protagonist’s plight as she makes crucial changes to the abbey and, in doing so, creates a new path for the women that the world is so quick to leave behind. It’s historical fiction but couldn’t be more resonant as Groff explores the themes of agency, power and pleasure. Through rich imagery, Groff builds a beautifully realized world with a complicated, ambitious woman at the center.

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