Thursday, 7 April 2011

Heresy by S J Parris


DATE READ: April 2011

NOTES: Giordano Bruno is an Italian ex-communicated monk who escaped from the Inquisition to France and then on to England in 1583. He has rejected much traditional religious thinking and his heretic philosophy goes beyond Copernicus. With his friend Philip Sidney he travels to Oxford – ostensibly to debate with their senior don but also to seek out a lost book of Hermetic writings. As a further complication Sir Francis Walsingham has inveigled him into looking out for anti-Elizabeth sentiments among the Oxford academics. While in Oxford some murders occur and Bruno finds himself in the role of investigator.

Heresy is a well-written atmospheric historical fiction. The scenes of London, the Thames and Oxford are all well done. The tensions caused by religion and politics in Elizabethan England are clearly described. Although there were many who clung desperately to their chosen religion and were prepared to be martyred others just wanted to get on with their lives. “You must excuse Doctor Bernard some of his harshness,” he said, apologetically. “He has had to change his religion three times under four different sovereigns.”

The Tudor period has given rise to many other novels so any writer approaching this period needs to show considerable originality. Although Heresy has many positive attributes it is far from original. There are echoes of The Name of the Rose – especially with the reference to the secret book. The Shardlake books have already encompassed the role of Tudor detective so S J Parris had her work cut out to compete.

One of my problems with this book was the characters – none were especially prepossessing. Among the Oxford academics there was little differentiation and they all become merged in my mind. However the pace picked up towards the end and the final denouement was exciting if not credible. Why do the villains admit and explain what they have done? They don’t do this in real life but it happens again and again in books and films.

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