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Books 77-78: Heresy and At the House of the Magician

Book 77: Heresy (Giordano Bruno 01).
Author: S. J. Parris, 2010.
Genre: Historical Fiction. Murder Mystery. Elizabethan England.
Other Details: Paperback. 495 pages.

This is the first in a series of historical mysteries featuring scientist, magician and heretic Giordano Bruno. In 1583 Bruno spent three years in England and during that time is thought to have worked for Elizabeth's spy master, Sir Francis Walsingham. In this first story Bruno travels to Oxford in order to take part in a debate on the theories of Copernicus. However, he has also been retained by Walsingham to report on the activities of secret Catholics in Oxford. He lodges at Lincoln College, where the debate will take place, and before long there occurs a series of gruesome murders mimicking the deaths of Christian martyrs. Bruno investigates; uncovering many secrets and plenty of suspects while eventually placing himself in mortal danger.

I enjoyed this book a great deal and found it very much in the same vein as the Shardlake novels of C. J. Sansom and Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose. One newspaper reviewer suggests that J.K. Rowling was also an influence as the college bursar, who proves an adversary, is named Slythurst and bears a passing resemblance to Severus Snape. Well, you never know.

Bruno is a fascinating character and Parris obviously has researched his life in depth and managed to capture his complexity without becoming too stodgy. She has blended historical and fictional events and conveyed a strong sense of the period setting. I was also impressed at how well she integrated Bruno's knowledge of and love for the hermetic arts into his narration. I discovered that she had written a thesis while at Cambridge on the influence of the occult philosophy on Renaissance literature which does explain her familiarity with the material.

Random House Page on 'Heresy'- contains links to background info, downloadable excerpt and author's note on her research.

Book 78: At the House of the Magician.
Author: Mary Hooper, 2007.
Genre: Historical Fiction. Elizabethan England. YA.
Other Details: Paperback. 240 pages.

Lucy dreams of becoming a maid in one of the houses of the gentry and catching a glimpse of Queen Elizabeth and members of her court. When she runs away from home to escape from her abusive, drunk father a twist of fate sees her being taken on as the nursemaid to the children of Dr. John Dee, Elizabeth's astrologer and magician. She accidentally witnesses some of the strange goings on between Dr. Dee and his sinister assistant, Edward Kelly and later her curiosity leads her to discovering a plot against the queen. Yet she is no one and who would believe her?

This is a much lighter undertaking than Heresy and is the first in a trilogy set in Elizabethan England for YA readers. Sir Francis Walsingham makes a cameo in this novel as Lucy becomes part of his network, setting up for the next two novels By Royal Command and The Betrayal.

Hooper includes notes on the historical characters, a glossary and bibliography. It was a very quick read that I chose in honour of Dr. Dee's birthday last month. I felt that Hooper gave a good account of the complexities of the politics and religious strife of the period making this an accessible introduction for younger readers. Lucy is a very sweet narrator and I expect I shall continue with the others in the series to see how her story plays out.
Tags: historical fiction, historical mysteries, occult, young adult
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