Bruno Giordano, a former priest and now excommunicant, has been running from the Inquisition in Italy because of his proclivity for reading books that are considered heretical, like Erasmus’ Commentaries or Copernicus’ De revolutionibus orbium coelestium. Finally, after many narrow escapes he has found refuge in England, where Walsingham, Queen Elizabeth’s spy master sees much potential in Giordano’s insights and logical thinking. So on a spring day in 1583, Bruno finds himself as a traveling companion to a Polish potentate who has lost favor in the Queen’s court, and Sir Philip Sydney, an aristocrat who also works for Walsingham, who are on their way to Oxford. There Bruno has been asked to be part of a Disputation with the rector of the Lincoln College about the nature of the universe, but he has also been tasked with confirming the truth of various rumors indicating that there are unrepentant Catholics, in Oxford who are practicing the old faith and plotting treason and sedition against Queen Elizabeth.
Although the Disputation goes very badly, Bruno’s disgust at the lack of true academic curiosity on the part of his opponent and embarrassment from not being able to make his points very well, is eclipsed on his return to the college by the screams of a dying man locked in a small garden courtyard being mauled by a half starved hunting dog. This gruesome death is quickly followed by another, staged to look like one of the martyrs in Fox’s Book of Martyrs and soon Bruno is in the middle of trying to solve the mystery of these deaths which seem to point to being the work of an underground Catholic cabal.
Parris is able to recreate the mindset of Elizabethan times with great clarity. The uncertainty of who believes what, the lack of freedom to worship God the way you want, and the arrogance of the church who claims that science must bow to its understandings even at the expense of scientific progress, are vividly portrayed. Parris also spends time developing each of the various characters and even the lowly gate keeper comes to life and adds realism and a bit of humor to an otherwise serious story. I loved all the historical descriptions: the food people ate, the way they did laundry, and the descriptions of the town of Oxford where I lived for a few months during college. If you like history, this is a great read!
Brenda’s Rating: *** (3 Stars out of 5)
Recommend this book to: Marian
Book Study Worthy? Yes
Read in ebook format.