July 29th, 2011


Book 74: The School of Night by Louis Bayard

Book 74: The School of Night .
Author: Louis Bayard, 2011
Genre: Historical Fiction. Conspiracy Thriller.
Other Details: Hardback. 339 pages

The School of Night is said to have been an Elizabethan secret society centred around Sir Walter Raleigh and Henry Percy, the 'Wizard' Earl of Northumberland. Its membership was comprised of various free thinkers who met up to discuss what was then forbidden knowledge. Among those rumoured to have been members were playwright Christopher Marlow and astronomer Thomas Harriot, whose patron was Henry Percy. Although the existence of the School of Night is contested as there is no documentation, which is not really a surprise given that it was a secret group in dangerous times, Bayard uses the concept to write a quite engaging literary thriller in which a disgraced Raleigh scholar, Henry Cavendish, becomes caught up in a modern day quest linked to the long buried secrets of the group.

At the funeral of his close friend, Alonzo Wax, Henry is approached by a noted collector Bernard Styles who offers Henry a handsome sum for the return of a letter penned by Sir Walter Raleigh that Alonzo had 'borrowed' from Styles. As Henry is the designated executor of Alonzo's estate he is able to search for the letter, which he begins to do. However, just before Alonzo's suspected suicide he had sent an email to Henry in which he mysteriously stated: "The School of Night is back in session." This reference to the School of Night recalled their mutual fascination at university with the Elizabethan cabal. At the funeral he also encounters the beautiful Clarissa Dale, who claims to have received the same message from Alonzo. Clarissa tells Henry that for the last year she has had vivid dreams in which she is observing Thomas Harriot in 1603. Naturally Henry is sceptical of these dreams but is convinced of Clarissa's belief in their validity. When a colleague of Alonzo's is found murdered, the whole situation turns deadly.

Bayard moves is story between 2009 and 1603 as the story develops in both time periods, using Clarissa's visions as a bridge. There is a hunt for treasure, cryptic messages, thrilling chases and of course mortal danger. While this was a serviceable thriller at times the movement between time periods felt a little clumsy. I was also disappointed in a twist in the penultimate chapter that just seemed unnecessary though maybe that was just me. Bayard also did not appear too comfortable with the mystical elements of the story, whether dealing with Harriot's interest in alchemy or Clarissa's visions. Still it isn't an easy topic to address and overall the story satisfied and kept me happily turning the pages to see how things turned out. I also found Thomas Harriot a fascinating character and plan to seek more information about his life and work.

(no subject)

Book #54 -- Frewin Jones, Warrior Princess #3: The Emerald Flame, 352 pages.

What can I say, Frewin Jones is one of my guilty pleasures. Quick read, ass-kicking female lead, quasi-Celtic setting, perfect brain candy.

Book #55 -- Rebecca Barnhouse, The Coming of the Dragon, 320 pages.

Don't let the childish fantasy cover fool you, this is actually a really good retelling of the end of the Beowulf saga, long after the defeat of Grendel and his mother. Rune is a foundling, an outcast among the Geats. But when a dragon attacks the settlement, Rune joins King Beowulf and his party to go hunt it down, and in the process, learns a great deal about his past and his future.

Progress toward goals: 207/365 = 56.7%

Books: 55/100 = 55.0%

Pages: 17654/30000 = 58.8%

2011 Book List

cross-posted to 15000pages, 50bookchallenge, and gwynraven


Book Review No. 23 is Kay Hymowitz's Manning Up: How the Rise of Women Has Turned Men into Boys, which promised to be interesting, and developed from a prequel that sparked a lot of commentary,  turns out so unimpressive as to not provoke any pencilled scribblings on pages or flyleaves (yes, these reviews often rely on marginal notes). Collapse )  There's a lot gone wrong in the country, and a lot that's changed, but a snapshot of a small slice of the population of young adults does not a definitive study make.

(Cross-posted to Cold Spring Shops.)
El Corazon

91. American Brutus...; 92. The Walking Dead #82

American Brutus: John Wilkes Booth and the Lincoln Conspiracies
by Michael W. Kauffman

Started: July 22, 2011
Finished: July 26, 2011

Kauffman is a great researcher and solid writer and does a good job of presenting "just the facts" about the assassination of Abraham Lincoln without engaging in a bunch of silly speculation. 400 pages. Grade: A
The Walking Dead #82
by Robert Kirkman

Started/Finished: July 28, 2011

I liked the long scene between Carl and Morgan. It was a little preachy but the idea was very good and the execution good enough. 32 pages. Grade: A-
Total # of books read in 2011: 92
Total # of pages read in 2011: 26,616