Wednesday, March 24, 2010

HERESY by S.J. Parris

I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher.

HERESY follows the adventures of real-life renegade monk Giordano Bruno during his journeys in England during the 1580s.  Bruno flees Italy to avoid persecution by the Inquisition for reading forbidden books. He gives up his life as a monk in order to pursue his scholarly ambitions of proving to the world that not only does the Earth revolve around the sun but also that there are many of these star systems beyond our own. These heretical ideas bring him to England as a traveling scholar where Bruno will debate Copernican theory with a fellow at Oxford.  While there, a series of murders takes place that seem to model several famous martyrdoms.  Bruno is enlisted to help solve these crimes while he secretly looks for a banned book that may change the world.

I love good historical fiction and the subject matter of this particular book drew me in immediately.  The mystery surrounding the quest for a lost "heretical" book sounded exciting. However, this storyline ended up being sidelined in favor for the murders of the Oxford fellows.  The subject matter is exciting and interesting.  Bruno, however, doesn't offer much in the way of a main character. He is a bit lackluster and uninteresting compared to everything going on around him. His most interesting moments occur prior to his trip to England.  I liked the fact that Parris based the book on a real person but then he isn't allowed much personality to carry him through the story. 

While the book is marketed as a murder mystery/thriller, I think this is the least interesting part of the book.  The murders themselves take a backseat to the intrigue surrounding the conflict between Catholics and Protestants at this time.  Everyone is forced to take sides and must often inform on their friends in order to save themselves.  Even Bruno isn't exempt from this conflict.  He is coerced into becoming an informant which seems simple enough until he gets to know these individuals personally and becomes more emotionally invested in their lives.  What once seemed black and white becomes much more complex after this happens.  I think this is where the true story lies.  The murders are not nearly as interesting as the issues surrounding politics and religion.

As a murder mystery, HERESY fell flat for me.  As a story of the lengths individuals would go to in order to practice and protect their faith and beliefs and the conflict that this led to, I think the book works very well.  I found myself thinking about what I would do in that particular situation and whether I would be able to trust anyone. 

BOTTOM LINE: Recommended as historical fiction. I think fans of historical fiction will find much to like here.  It was a very entertaining read. Mystery/thriller fans may be a bit disappointed.  Overall, it is a nice piece of historical fiction.

1 comment:

Diane said...

I have this one as well, but have not read it yet. I think it would be a pretty good read for me.