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Sacrilege: A Novel Hardcover – April 10, 2012
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"Parris interweaves historical fact with psychological insight as Bruno, a humanist dangerously ahead of his time, begins his quest to light the fire of enlightenment in Europe." —Publishers Weekly, starred review
About the Author
S. J. PARRIS is the pseudonym of Stephanie Merritt. Since graduating from Cambridge she has worked as a critic and feature writer for a variety of newspapers and magazines as well as for radio and television. She currently writes for The Observer and The Guardian and is the author of five books.
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Top customer reviews
I also personally feel the choice of the plot in this one is very bad. I couldn't wait to finish the first two. I tossed this about a quarter of the way through. I will give her next book a try though - she's earned that. The further has a good grasp of history, presents it well, and generally writes so that the reader feels truly immersed.
This third Giordano Bruno mystery by Stephanie Merritt was just as enthralling as the first two, "Heresy" and "Prophecy"---perhaps even more so, because it reunites the two ultimately doomed protagonists of the first novel: heretical philosopher Giordano Bruno (on the run from the Catholic Church and the Inquisition in what we now call Italy) and Sophia Underhill (the disgraced daughter of the Rector of Lincoln College at Oxford University). Most readers of "Sacrilege" will have already read the first two novels, so the characters of our two protagonists in this novel are already well established, and the author had the luxury of weaving further subtlety, and indeed mystery, into what had already been established in her two earlier works. This is particularly true of her portrayal of Sophia Underhill.
The story works all by itself as a good mystery, with unexpected plot twists at the end that I did not foresee. One of the major strengths of this novel is Merritt's continued, eminently successful re-creation of society in Elizabethan England---both the life of commoners, and the treacherous plots and schemes involving the power elite in this time of constant tension, and largely subterranean war, between Queen Elizabeth's nominally Protestant regime and the embittered, determined Catholic underground.
Whereas "Heresy" gave us a good look at life in Oxford in 1583, and "Prophecy" at the dangerous life at Elizabeth's court immediately thereafter, "Sacrilege" places us in Canterbury in the late summer of 1584, amidst the plotting and scheming of the Catholic underground, centered around the cult of Saint Thomas Becket, who had been martyred by King Henry II's knights four hundred years earlier.
Our hero, Giordano Bruno, is trying to do two things at once: clear the name of the woman with whom he is hopelessly obsessed---Sophia Underhill---of charges of murder; and simultaneously penetrate the Catholic underground in Canterbury for his secret patron, Sir Francis Walsingham, Queen Elizabeth's spymaster. I won't provide any spoilers here, but will simply promise that the plot is sufficiently complex, and takes enough unexpected turns, to keep the reader riveted. Like the first two novels in this series, it is the kind of book that is hard to put down, so start reading it on a Friday night when you have the weekend to finish it.
In places, this novel burns with smoldering sensuality---and I find it interesting that the sexual drives and complicated emotions of our hero, Bruno himself, are completely convincing and realistic to this one male reviewer, even though the novel is written by a woman. Stephanie Merritt has written convincingly about the sexual motivations of both of her protagonists, male and female, which is no mean accomplishment.
Particularly fascinating to me is how the reader so desperately wants Bruno to succeed in his quests in each of these novels, in spite of our historical certainty that he was ultimately doomed to be burned alive at the stake, by the Inquisition in Rome, in February of 1600. The author has made us care about Bruno, to the extent that we identify with him, as if he were a person of the modern age trapped in an age of superstition, rigid dogma, and intolerance. Stephanie Merritt has brilliantly succeeded in making "the journey" Bruno takes on his path to ultimate self-destruction what matters, not the final outcome, for we already know what that is.
Perhaps this has been so successful in the first three novels because Bruno actually WAS in Elizabeth's England between 1583 and 1585, the years in which the first three novels are set. Stephanie Merritt, a beautiful and accomplished Englishwoman of letters, has proven extremely adept in reconstructing true historical figures in her three novels---Francis Walsingham, Lord Burghley, John Dee, Sir Phillip Sidney, and Queen Elizabeth herself. The author not only entertains us, but we learn about how complex were the politics of the day not only in England, but in Europe as well.
The next novel in the Giordano Bruno mystery series must inevitably trace Bruno's journey back to Paris, for he did return there late in 1585, and "Sacrilege" ends as the new year of 1585 begins. I hope the author is as successful at re-creating the unsettled politics of Paris in 1585 and 1586, as she has been at replicating the tension and near-desperation at the Elizabethan court in this age of turmoil, when Spain and Catholic Europe were plotting so assiduously for Elizabeth's downfall. (As "Sacrilege" ends, the Armada, King Phillip II's "Enterprise of England," is only about three years distant.)
Finally, I want to thank Stephanie Merritt for telling us just enough about Bruno to ground and define his character, but not everything. Her occasional forays into describing some of his writings and activities have served as a stimulus to this reader to learn more about this fascinating, restless, opinionated, brave, and yes, occasionally reckless man. Her fascination with him has been conveyed to at least one reader---me---and no doubt to countless others.
I can't wait for the next book!
Travelling under a non-de plume, Bruno arrives in Canterbury and discovers plots and plans aplenty. But when the body count rises and he’s accused of terrible crimes, it’s not just his friend’s name he has to clear or Sir Francis’ suspicions he has to lay to rest. Bruno finds himself fighting for his life and the only way he can save himself and his friend is to uncover a conspiracy so dark and tightly controlled that has the potential to bring down the greatest men in Canterbury – men who will stop at nothing to protect their own hides, even if it means killing innocents.
Once again, this is a terrifically written and paced novel that allows fans of the series even more insights into the central character and the strengths and, indeed, weaknesses that make him so appealing. Whereas other books have focussed a great deal on the ideologies and philosophies that shaped the era, the laws of the cosmos, the role of magic and mathematics, divine intervention and Bruno’s opinions and studies in these areas, lending the books a historical authenticity and the demonstrating the author’s research and understanding, this novel relies more on character and plot and I think is better for that. Any references to beliefs or famous treatises and how they influence Elizabethan thought is seamlessly woven into the narrative rather than sitting apart as a dinner conversation or dialogue/debate between two learned men. It’s as if Parris is more comfortable with her material now and the reader can appreciate her considerable knowledge and she can just get on with the story. And what a story it is – treachery, sacrilege, betrayal, love, death and faith all feature as does the book for which Bruno will sacrifice anything… or will he?
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It's 1584 and antagonism rages between Protestant England and Catholic countries of Europe.Read more