Saturday, November 27, 2010

Mini-review of HERESY by S.J. Parris

Giordano Bruno was one of the 16th century's most erudite visionaries, a Dominican monk who fled the Church after being accused of heresy. His cosmological theories went beyond Copernicus's heliocentric visions; Bruno was the first European to conceptualize the universe as a vast continuum populated by many galaxies. He was also a visionary writer on the concept of memory and avid scholar of mysticism.

Naturally, his curious mind made him very unpopular with Catholic authorities, struggling as they were with the catastrophic repercussions of the Reformation. In S.J. Parris's debut novel, aptly titled HERESY, we first meet Bruno as he is caught in the privy with a forbidden book. When the Inquisition is called in, Bruno flees the scene and ends up in Elizabeth I's London, where, as an associate of Philip Sidney's, he's invited to debate at Oxford. Bruno seeks a lost Heremetical manuscript; he's also been secretly hired by Francis Walsingham, the queen's ruthless spymaster, to investigate a possible Catholic cell operating at the famed university.

Bruno soon finds himself the target of xenophobic comments and suspicion, even as he is drawn to the university rector's lively daughter. A series of grisly murders reveal evidence that Oxford indeed harbors a hotbed of Catholic conspirators, drawing Bruno out of his intellectual comfort zone into a shadowy world where faith and persecution are inextricably entwined and killing in the name of God is a hallowed act. While Bruno’s much-vaunted accomplishments take a back seat to his skills as an amateur sleuth, the story offers some eerily discomfiting moments, depicting a far less tolerant Elizabethan era than we may imagine, as seen through the eyes of a man for whom science and reason are paramount. Secondary characters are skillfully drawn, including a sinister bookseller and the haunted son of an exiled Catholic fellow. HERESY offers an engrossing mystery, an unusual look at the ever-popular Tudor world, and a promising initiation into a new series featuring Giordano Bruno.


Laurel Corona said...

This sounds great! I love novels that tie in the history of science, and this sounds like a good one in that regard,

Daphne said...

I'm reading this now and am finding it very intriguing. I want to know who did it!!