Author: S.J. Parris
Release Date: February 23, 2010
Genre: Historical Fiction, Mystery
Rating: 3 out of 5
The year is 1583 and Giordano Bruno is a former Italian monk who was excommunicated by the Catholic Church. He traveled across Europe until he finally ended up in England, a spy for Sir Francis Walsingham under Queen Elizabeth I. Under Walsingham’s direction, Bruno travels to Oxford in order to uncover treasonous Catholics plotting against the queen. But what he discovers in Oxford shocks him to the core and sets him off on a quest to discover a murderer.
Heresy is an interesting novel, made all the more fascinating due to the fact that it’s based on a real person. Giordano Bruno was an actual former monk who was running from the Inquisition and made friends in high places along the way. He may have been a spy for Francis Walsingham, but what is definitely known is that he was a humanist, a poet, and a philosopher.
Parris does an incredible job evoking the atmosphere of Oxford in the late sixteenth century. Her descriptions are incredibly detailed; she clearly undertook a lot of research in order to get her facts just right. It really pays off – this novel is not just a casual read. Instead, it immerses the reader fully in the time period, the vivid descriptions making them feel as if they are actually there with Bruno.
The depiction of Catholic versus Protestant in this novel is also interesting. Parris gives Oxford an atmosphere rich with religious tension. It is clear that there is a lot going on beneath the surface, that these religious battles are tearing the country apart. It gives the book extra depth and makes it wonderful for anyone interested in the fights between Protestant and Catholic.
The mystery, however, wasn’t as gripping as I would have hoped. There was little urgency to the novel; it had a meandering pace that wasn’t suited well to a book about murder. I didn’t feel like there was anything drawing me back to the book, to make me continue reading it. As a result, it took much longer than it should have to get through and I found my attention wandering more than once. It just moved much too slowly for my tastes.
Despite its flaws, Heresy is a clever and interesting book. Parris has created an intriguing protagonist with Giordano Bruno. I’ll definitely plan on picking up any future books she writes about him.