In 1509, Alan Drayton, a young Yorkshireman, has to leave his college in Cambridge after a tavern brawl. His tutor Erasmus sends him to the continent to try to retrieve a manuscript of The Gadfly, a lost play by the ancient Greek writer Alexis from the time of Socrates. He believes that it is in the monastery of Varna in the Balkans. Alan intends to deliver the play to the printer Aldus Manutius in Venice, refusing to take employment with the ruthless Duke of Molfetta, who wants the play for his private collection. He is joined on the arduous journey to the monastery by a young Italian woman, Angela d'Asola, who disguises herself as a boy. They encounter Adriatic pirates, shipwreck, Turkish janissaries and sinister monks, all the while being doggedly pursued by the agents of the Duke. They find the manuscript but lose it again. In the end, their love of learning saves the day. The author avoids the obvious ending of having the two leading characters marry each other, instead following the custom of the time Angela marries an older wealthy man whom she has had in mind for some time. Alan returns to England, on the verge of its own Renaissance, to continue his education.
Used availability for Geoffrey Trease's The Hills of Varna
October 1967 : UK Paperback