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A Burnable Book: A Novel Hardcover – February 18, 2014


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 464 pages
  • Publisher: William Morrow; First Edition edition (February 18, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0062240323
  • ISBN-13: 978-0062240323
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.4 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (122 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #231,708 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

"Medieval England never tasted so rich nor smelled so foul as in this descriptive and intricately layered mystery. Holsinger...succeeds in elevating the missing manuscript genre to new heights that will entertain readers of both fiction and nonfiction." - Library Journal

"Holsinger is...a fantastic historical novelist...definitely a strong new talent in the field. This book has everything--Chaucer, cryptography, murder, Katherine Swynford, the Southwark stews, English royalty, prophecy. It's that rare thing: a well-written, historically accurate thriller." -Historical Fiction Notebook

"John Gower is the perfect narrator and amateur sleuth...Holsinger's research, alongside the energetic vulgarity of a language in flux, delivers up a world where even the filth is colorful." (The New York Times Book Review)

“The poet John Gower is the perfect narrator and amateur sleuth. . . . Holsinger’s research, alongside the energetic vulgarity of a language in flux, delivers up a world where even the filth is colorful.” (New York Times Book Review)

“Medievalist Holsinger delivers a first novel whose zest, breadth, and color evoke The Canterbury Tales. . . . [T]he intricate plot, sharp characterizations, and sweeping depiction of medieval England make this a memorable fiction debut.” (Publishers Weekly (starred review))

“Holsinger is a graceful guide to the 14th century, lacing his thriller with just the right seasoning of antique words and all the necessary historical detail without any of the fusty smell of a documentary.” (Washington Post)

” ‘A Burnable Book’ is fragrant with the stench of medieval London. . . . The central mystery of the book leads us through the mucky lanes of London, with cunning surprises around every corner. . . . jam-packed tapestry of medieval England.” (NPR)

“The reader will be rewarded with a fascinating overview of pre-Renaissance London at its best and worst. A highly literate thriller from medievalist Holsinger.” (Kirkus Reviews)

“Medieval England never tasted so rich nor smelled so foul as in this descriptive and intricately layered mystery. . . . [Holsinger] succeeds in elevating the missing manuscript genre to new heights that will entertain readers of both fiction and nonfiction.” (Library Journal)

“Everything you want in a work of historical fiction: fascinating, rich in period detail, and propelled by a compulsively engaging story. Even better, it’s clever and witty…a superb entertainment.” (David Liss, author of The Twelfth Enchantment)

“Spellbinding . . . A Burnable Book exemplifies the best in historical fiction.” (Richmond Times-Dispatch)

From the Back Cover

In Chaucer's London, betrayal, murder, and intrigue swirl around the existence of a prophetic book that foretells the deaths of England's kings

London, 1385. Surrounded by ruthless courtiers—including his powerful uncle, John of Gaunt, and Gaunt's artful mistress, Katherine Swynford—England's young king, Richard II, is in mortal peril. Songs are heard across London—catchy verses said to originate from an ancient book that prophesies the ends of England's kings—and among the book's predictions is Richard's assassination. Only a few powerful men know that the cryptic lines derive from a "burnable book," a seditious work that threatens the stability of the realm. To find the manuscript, wily bureaucrat Geoffrey Chaucer turns to fellow poet John Gower, a professional trader in information with connections high and low.

Gower discovers that the book and incriminating evidence about its author have fallen into the unwitting hands of innocents, who will be drawn into a conspiracy that reaches from the king's court to London's slums and stews—and potentially implicates Gower's own son. As the intrigue deepens, it becomes clear that John Gower, a man with secrets of his own, may hold the key to saving the king, and England itself.

Medieval scholar Bruce Holsinger draws on his vast knowledge of the period to add colorful, authentic detail—on everything from poetry and bookbinding to court intrigues and brothels—to this highly entertaining and brilliantly constructed literary mystery that brings medieval England gloriously to life.

Customer Reviews

The explanation of the plot at the end was a little convoluted.
Camille
The author has done a great deal of research into the historical era which this book takes place, and it shows.
D. Howard
This is a great book for anyone who enjoys medieval history or mysteries.
Carpe Librum

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

74 of 76 people found the following review helpful By Cphe on February 3, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
The power of the written word, to bring down a King, to solve a mystery.

This story contains a wealth of historical information and detail of London during the time of Richard 11. It also contains a very fine mystery and plenty of political intrigue, it's also a little bit bawdy.

When rumours of a treasonous book begin circulating in 1385 London, and an unknown woman is murdered while being in possession of the book, Geoffrey Chaucer calls in a favour of John Gower. Gower is a man who trades in information and who quickly comes to the realisation that he may well be out of his depth. Intrigue and murder follow his quest to find the book that contains 13 cryptic prophesies.

The true strength of this story lies in the detail, the small aspects of the life and times of the everyday Londoner, from the maudlyns who ply their trade on the streets to the beadles, the lawmen and to the clergy. It is a fascinating glimpse of a time past.

There are a lot of characters introduced to the reader early on and I admit it was a bit confusing at first to sort everyone out. When the story is told through the eyes of a few key players the story picks up momentum and becomes absorbing reading.

If you are a history buff who enjoys a well plotted mystery then this is well worth the time and perseverence.
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26 of 27 people found the following review helpful By Camille on March 13, 2014
Format: Hardcover
It's 1385 in London and King Richard II could be in mortal danger due to a mysterious book of prophecies.

Honestly, I found the premise of this book to be more interesting than the actual book. There was an overwhelming amount of characters - so many that Holsinger actually includes a 'cast of characters' in the front. It was a handy reference, but many of the characters had very small roles and I don't feel they needed to be mentioned on the list. It was too much information to process.

But the main characters - a poet, an Esquire, and a handful of whores - were varied and interesting. I especially liked Eleanor/Edgar, who is a transgender and switches between genders as the situation calls for it. A very unique character, especially for the time period! The villain was a little lacking in personality. He seemed to be more of a puppet master - just a general threat.

The explanation of the plot at the end was a little convoluted. I had more of a 'huh?' moment at the end rather than 'oh!' I didn't want to go back and reread parts to fully understand it. There was also one character whose chapters were in first person while all others were in third. I didn't feel this added anything extra and instead felt it was an inconsistency.

But if you like historical fiction, especially in this period, it's worth reading for the characters alone.
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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Elspeth G. Perkin on February 22, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
A Burnable Book is a richly textured read that like a savory pie needs to be enjoyed slowly. We have the crust that is the first gripping chapter that draws the eye of the reader and tempts the curious to sample more, then as the shell is broken the reader will be surprised to uncover an assortment of complex characters that all have a hand in touching a potentially dangerous book called "Book of The Deaths of English Kings". Set in 14th century England and beyond the realm, the reader is submerged into the darker side of the lanes and liberties of human drudgery and misery that pervaded many lives of those of the period. Narrations and views switch between those of the genteel standing, the unfortunate who specialize in self preservation and the others who battle their principles and private demons. The meat of the story is the hunt across the divided four corners of London, Southswark and Westminster for a book that contains 13 prophecies of historical significance. The sauce thickens as time is of the essence because the surrounding church bells ring and the risk escalates for those already involved and yet another soul views the pages of the poisonous book, a deadly countdown has begun and it appears no one is exempt from the fickle wheel of fate.

In the end, this was a difficult but a worthwhile read for this reader. I will the first to admit that at many times my mind strayed to the other books I had waiting for me but there was just something so unique and interesting about this one that I just stepped away for a time then returned. So glad I did this and I encourage any frustrated reader to do the same. Just step away and come back because Mr.
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18 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Cynthia C.C. on April 10, 2014
Format: Hardcover
This isn't a particularly good book, nor is it particularly bad. The positive first. The story does give some good information about medieval Europe (mostly London). It is better researched, historically, than some. I love history, so that aspect was decent. But, on the flip side, it doesn't really delve into the filthy, nasty heart of life in the 14th century. For instance, many of the main characters are prostitutes, and though the author mentions that one very old prostitute has the pox, there is no mention whatsoever of the hideous STD's that every single prostitute would have had (in addition to horrendous nutrition). The health of those women (and men) would have been ruined within just a few years. Why do I mention this? Because this book is clearly trying to be historically accurate, but it shies away from anything ikcy. Life at that time was very icky. You want to write a book about it? Take us there.

The story itself is theoretically interesting. A good premise and plot. But the execution is lacking. I've mentioned this in the review of another book: the plot proceeds in such a way that I could picture the author outlining it on a whiteboard. Don't get me wrong, all (most?) good plots are well-planned ahead of writing. But good stories/good authors manage to transcend mere plot, and create a three-dimensional world of color, sound, and scent. This book never transcends the mechanism of its plot. It gives the impression of going through the motions. This scene is meant to convey this information, that scene is meant to convey that information, etc. I always know that a book is lacking in artistry when the death of a main character evokes no emotion whatsoever.

Again, this book wasn't bad, hence the 3 stars. But it could have been so very much more. Get to the heart of things. Delve down deep into the place and story. Don't simply traipse along the surface.
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More About the Author

Bruce Holsinger is a fiction writer and literary scholar who teaches in the Department of English at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. His debut novel, A BURNABLE BOOK, is set in the alleys and halls of medieval London, where the poets Geoffrey Chaucer and John Gower spent much of their lives.

He is also the author or editor of six nonfiction books on medieval literature and culture. His work has garnered major awards from the Modern Language Association, the American Musicological Society, and the Medieval Academy of America. His research has been recognized with a Guggenheim Fellowship, and he is the recipient of research fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the American Council of Learned Societies. Holsinger's scholarly books have been published by the university presses of Chicago, Columbia, and Stanford.

He lives in Charlottesville, Virginia with his family.

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