THE ASTRONOMER by Lawrence Goldstone
This cerebral thriller plunges the reader into a treacherous world of strife in France on the eve of the brutal Wars of Religion. Amaury de Faverges, illegitimate son of the duke of Savoy, secretly yearns to learn more about scientific theories forbidden by the Church; when a beloved classmate of his is murdered, Amaury takes the dead boy's place to foil a heretical plot that could challenge the foundation of the Church. A taut, suspenseful and erudite look at the 16th century's struggle to reconcile science with faith, The Astronomer is a refreshing departure into the turmoil of an era at odds with itself. (I purchased this book. For my longer review, see here).
EMPIRE by Steven Saylor
In his sequel to the NYT bestseller Roma, Steven Saylor returns to depicting the fortunes and tragedies of his fictional Pinarius family, this time during the notorious reigns of the emperors. Mr. Saylor’s keen sense of detail and breadth of knowledge are on ample display, as is his ability to weave centuries of history into entertaining narrative. Because Saylor mines such a richly documented time in Rome’s history, Empire has some intense set-pieces, such as the horrific mass execution of Christians under Nero. Yet precisely because so much of interest occurs, at times Saylor’s fictional characters do not engage as much as their historical counterparts. Nevertheless, Empire is a magnificent feat of storytelling. (The publisher sent this book to me for review.)