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The Relic Master: A Novel Hardcover – December 8, 2015

4.1 out of 5 stars 228 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

An Amazon Best Book of December 2015: Christopher Buckley is best known for his satirical treatment of contemporary politics, so at first blush The Relic Master seems like a departure. Set in the 1500s, the novel follows the exploits of Dismas the Relic Master, who partners with Albrecht Dürer (yes, the famous painter) to pit two wealthy relic collectors against one another. Greed, ego, and high jinks ensue as this smart, funny, fast-paced novel shows us that money and power have always corrupted, and if not always absolutely, at least in ways that will leave onlookers scratching their heads in wonder. Of course Dismas wants to separate his patron from as much money as possible; by setting the story in a different time and place, Buckley is able to dissect human behavior (and weirdness) where a more contemporary examination might just seem too personal. Plus, The Relic Master is a fun adventure novel set during a very interesting time in religious history. You’ll think, you’ll laugh, you may even wince at times—and you’ll be entertained. -- Chris Schluep


"An inspired piece of literary gymnastics [that] tumbles into an exuberant adventure caper. . . so tightly written that it holds the reader till the very last page. . . . a smart, tart, well-researched romp into one of history’s most irresistibly grubby and outrageous periods of excess.” (New York Times Book Review)

"We may be in 1517, but this is still a political send-up, and it’s as rascally and convivial as any that Mr. Buckley has written." (The Wall Street Journal)

“Buckley hasn’t abandoned political satire at all — he’s just found a different playing field for his favorite sport. The calamitous 16th century proves a supple mistress for this Washington writer…. lively, entertaining and occasionally educational.” (Washington Post)

“A classic, epic quest, like Indiana Jones gone medieval…. [A] rollicking plot filled with calamities, duplicity, intrigue and laugh-out-loud humor…even a little romance….. its comic moments recall Monty Python’s twisted histories…. The Relic Master is a hilarious, bawdy and irreverent frolic of a tale that lends Buckley’s deft waggish talents to a time long ago.” (USA Today)

“Christopher Buckley has transported his signature wit and irreverence from the Beltway to sixteenth-century Europe in The Relic Master. Think of it as Monty Python and the Holy Grail meets Pawn Stars, which is to say it's hilarious, absurd, and mildly infuriating (in a good way). You really can’t go wrong when one of America’s savviest humor writers takes on relic-mongers, artifact forgeries (about that Shroud of Turin . . .), and corrupt religious leaders. In short, The Relic Master is a rollicking good time set in an era just begging for Buckley’s biting satire.” (GQ)

“A witty, deft and often surprisingly big-hearted pleasure….Buckley is one of America’s wiliest satirists.” (Seattle Times)

“There’s plenty of fighting and fakery, deceit and rationalization, to go around. The political posturing, religious hypocrisy, and some of that old-time self-satirizing humor should entertain everyone.” (Boston Globe)

“Christopher Buckley takes his mordant wit from inside the Beltway to the Holy Roman Empire of 1517….Mr. Buckley mines brilliantly for comedic effect.” (New York Times)

Ocean’s-style capers and Spamalot slapstick ensue.” (New York Magazine)

"Beguiling, funny, and slyly erudite." (National Review)

"Impossible to put down once you’re caught in its thrall. But it’s not just the book’s page-turning pace that makes it so compelling; it’s Buckley’s stunning gift for unsparing satire. . . . The genius of Buckley’s satire is not merely its acuity but its balance." (Paste Magazine)

“Christopher F. Buckley, author of Thank You For Smoking and sixteen other books, has undoubtedly outdone himself with The Relic Master. Buckley imaginatively and cleverly married fact with fiction, creating a tale that will make the reader wonder the authenticity of the holy shroud. Packed with 16th century facts and people, The Relic Master is sure to capture the attention of history enthusiasts.” (Manhattan Book Review)

"Might be pitched Hollywood-style as The Princess Bride meets Ocean's XIII." (Kirkus Reviews, starred review)

“A humorous and enchanting adventure.” (Bustle.com)

"A madcap heist adventure...that’s as comical as any in Buckley’s modern era tales. Buckley’s many fans will be pleased." (Booklist)

"This historical novel is part Monty Python and part Ocean's 11. The clever narrative is filled with laugh-out-loud one-liners but, amazingly, doesn't stint on the suspense.... Through the cheeky humor, the author gives readers a very real sense of the early 16th century, when science and superstition held equal sway, and a man was always a swordsbreadth away from a horrible death." (Publishers Weekly)

"An exciting novel that proves that, in the world of political intrigue, some things are timeless." (Book Reporter)

"Arch humor, intricate twists and delightful surprises . . . Buckley has a talent for comic timing and the ability to make even morally ambiguous characters endearing." (Washington Independent Review of Books)

“An intelligent, entertaining and informative bit of time travel that will delight readers who appreciate history served up with humor…. one of our most versatile comic novelists.” (Washington Times)

“On one level, the novel entertains with a thrilling cast of characters, violence, vulgarity and a great deal of comedy…. On another level, the novel is a wonderful satire of our current politics, economic system, our greed for things once possessed by celebrity and the way in which we value art…. I recommend that you pick up Buckley’s novel. Relic Master entertains." (America Magazine)

“Ever wish Monty Python had written a novel? If so, The Relic Master is here. With laugh out loud humor, witty dialogue, and a true sense of historical detail, author Christopher Buckley has created a work of farcical art in this fast-paced adventure….The story leaps off the pages like the brilliantly, beautifully, and naughtily illuminated Bible pages carefully done by the monks of yore." (New York Journal of Books)

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster (December 8, 2015)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1501125753
  • ISBN-13: 978-1501125751
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 1.3 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (228 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #28,353 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Jill Meyer TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on December 13, 2015
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
A good novel can teach as well as entertain its readers. American author Christopher Buckley's new novel, "The Relic Master", is a farce set in 1519 Germany with real figures like Johann Tetzel, Albrecht Durer, Paracelsus, Martin Luther, and various dukes, popes, and cardinals mixing it up with fictional characters over the possession of the Shroud of Turin. (When was the last time you heard the words "farce" and "Martin Luther" written in the same sentence? I bet never...)

The year 1517 was sort of a fulcrum year in history. A tipping point with the perceived sins of the Catholic Church beginning to be denounced as "unchristian". The Pope was condoning the sale of indulgences - with half the profits going to build that splendid new church in Rome - to Catholics to lessen their time in Purgatory before ascending to heaven. And the purchase and adoration of relics - every thing from St Barbara's toe to a sliver of the True Cross - abounded. For a church to own a relic meant a source of income as believers paid to pray to it. One of the most important relic was the shroud that Jesus was wrapped in after his crucifixion. Buckley's story centers on one man - Dismas - a retired soldier who has taken up relic trading. He travels from relic fair to relic fair, picking up perceived relics and selling them to his two main patrons in Germany. He is trusted by his patrons - though who can ever know the if "St Barbara's toe" REALLY belonged to St Barbara? One of his good friends in his travel is Albrecht Durer, the famous painter from Nuremberg, who is very confident in his identity as Germany's best painter. A handsome fellow, he likes the good life and fame that his art has brought him and is contemptuous of other artists.
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Format: Kindle Edition
Set at the time of the Reformation and Luther's famous Ninety-Five Theses, Buckley has treated us to a walk through history (in this case, religious) that equals '1066 and All That'. Witty, humorous and telling. We are privy to the vagaries and voracities of the powerful--archbishops and electors, their purchases of artifacts that will increase the big business of indulgences and line their coffers. Buckley's portrayal of Frederick the Wise seems slightly more sympathetic. His collecting of relics appears more that of a genuine interest in the relics themselves, and a concern for their authenticity--he has the soul of a true collector. For Albert of Mainz indulgences are his way forward, they are about competition and power, the road to the Vatican and the supreme position. And now that Rome has issued a 'bull' decreeing that all indulgences sold by Albert have a special dispensation, indulgences in other parts of Europe are not as valuable in terms of the spiritual journeys of the faithful.
Dismas is a relic Hunter of exceptional ability and one who takes pride in his work. When he refuses to buy the supposed boat of St Peter, his patron Albrecht of Mainz is not happy. Albrecht's answer to Dismas' failure becomes obvious when Dismas next passes through.
Along with Dismas I am amazed at the sheer number of bones of saints, etc. that litter the religious houses of Europe and beyond. I am equally amazed by the various categories that relics cover--such as lapidary (from rocks Jesus walked on to stones thrown at the saints).
Meanwhile Dismas' other patron, Frederick the Wise, Elector of Saxony, is sheltering the now infamous Martin Luther. We know that these decisions are history changing moments.
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Format: Hardcover
In an interview with the New York Times Magazine in 2008, Christopher Buckley --- whose father, William F. Buckley, Jr., was a devout Catholic and no fan of the reforms proposed in the Second Vatican Council of the early 1960s --- was asked if he was a lapsed Catholic. “I am probably more of a collapsed Catholic,” he said. The following year, he elaborated further by saying, “I’m no longer a believer.” His father, who died before either of these interviews appeared in print, might not have approved of his son’s conversion. Luckily for readers, however, those doubts have led to THE RELIC MASTER, a surprising new novel that is one of the more entertaining works of the younger Buckley’s career.

When you think of Christopher Buckley, you probably think of his spot-on satires of Washington politics --- works such as NO WAY TO TREAT A FIRST LADY and THANK YOU FOR SMOKING. In THE RELIC MASTER, Buckley continues his fascination with politics, but this time he gives us politics of a more medieval nature. He mixes real characters from history with fictional creations to concoct an ingenious and, given the era, appropriately violent tale of jealousy and court intrigue.

The novel is set from 1517 to 1519 during the Holy Roman Empire. The protagonist is Dismas, a former Reiselaufer (Swiss mercenary) who, at the start of the novel, is making an “indecently profitable” living selling holy relics to wealthy clients. One might wonder why these clients would want a nipple from St. Agatha, the patroness of wet nurses, or the patella of St. Afra. The reason: they use these relics to sell indulgences, which, as Dismas explains, “allow us to shorten our time in Purgatory after we die. We can buy them from the Church… You can purchase them for your own soul, or for the souls of your loved ones.
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