Thursday, March 24, 2011


by S.J. Parris

I really really really really really wanted to like this book. Barnes & Noble was having a "Buy 2 get the 3rd Free" sale and this one especially caught my eye and was the first one I picked up. Being quite the historical fiction fan, I figured this was a no-brainer - I get to learn about history and be part of a murder mystery? It's a win-win!

Unfortunately, as I continued through the chapters, my excitement decreased rather than increased. The characters were flat and inconsistent, including the protagonist, Giordano Bruno. The real Bruno had such an exciting life with fascinating ideas on religion and the universe, and this fails to come through in the fictional Bruno. It was even hard for me to find sympathy for Sophia, who has no convictions and is love-sick for a man who would possibly kill her.

The mystery itself - finding the killer of 3 men at Oxford - was the only thing that kept me reading. I enjoy mysteries and try to figure out the killer before the people in the book do (though I'm usually not very good at it). And it was pretty twisted once it was revealed, so with that part of the book I was impressed. The character of Rowland Jenkes intrigued me, too, especially since he was a book binder, and he disappears at the end, so maybe he'll return in a future Bruno adventure. Though I may not ever find out...

Actual heresy was definitely a good foundation for the novel, as the victims were Catholics in the time of Protestantism and Bruno apprehended a priest at the end and sent him to the authorities in London. But I felt that it was just the tip of the heresy iceberg, and the author could have gone into much more detail about heresy and its implications, especially since Bruno himself was neither Catholic nor Protestant. Once again, maybe as the books continue, there will be more. Though I was impressed at the demonstration of Queen Elizabeth I in a not so appealing light; most of the books I've read laud her accomplishments and hardly anyone mentions that the Catholics must have hated her.

This book had such potential! But it what little suspense it had was depleted by the lack of momentum. There were large paragraphs describing the college and how Bruno was feeling, and the actual action took some time to get going. I was looking forward to a book about the dark times of heresy in an era where following your own faith could cause death, and all I got was an excommunicated Italian monk investigating a murder mystery.

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