I wasn't trying to read two books in a row about nuns, but I did: Danielle Trussoni's Angelology followed by Sarah Dunant's Sacred Hearts. In Sacred Hearts, the sisters can't summon angels, but they do have power, in their own limited (but more realistic) way.
In Renaissance Italy dowry inflation caused trouble for aristocratic women. Grooms' families demanded dowries that were so large most families could only afford to finance one daughter's marriage. While one girl (usually the oldest, but not always) could marry, her sisters were out of luck, and most of these girls ended up in convents, as there was no place for them within their own families once their parents died. I read one statistic that said that nearly 50% of women in Renaissance Italy were nuns.
Sacred Hearts is set within this milieu. As you can imagine, many of the women who ended up in convents were there under duress. Their interest in God and service was minimal. Lucky ones lived in convents where the rules were lax, and books, music and frequent visits from friends and family made their days bearable. Others found some solace in meaningful work in the community of sisters.
In Sacred Hearts this is the case for Suora Zuana, who acts as her convent's apothecary, mixing medicines from plants and healing the sick. Her friend, the convent's Mother Superior, has also found her niche. Running a convent is a complex task requiring diplomacy, financial acumen and political sophistication.
Together these two women must deal with the case of the rebellious novice Seraphina, a 16-year-old whose father has banished her to the convent after her indiscretions with her handsome music teacher. Zuana and the Mother Superior must use creativity, common sense and compassion to resolve this issue.
I liked this peek into a community of women who must make the best of their lot in life. Sarah Dunant writes good historical fiction that is neither weighed down with too much detail nor too anachronistic. It would have been easy to make this story a crusade against the oppression and patriarchy of the church and all that; Dunant avoids this theme while still telling a tale of injustice and survival.