Original date of publication: 2010
My edition: 2010 (Doubleday)
Why I decided to read: interest in the time period
How I acquired my copy: ARC through the Vine, January 2010
Giordano di Bruno, an Italian exile who is wanted for heresy, goes to Oxford in search for a book he believes is there. In addition, he’s also been commissioned by Sir Francis Walsingham to help uncover a Catholic plot to overthrow the Queen (Elizabeth I; this book takes place in 1583). However, his search for the book is waylaid when a College Fellow is savaged to death by a dog. Bruno;s task becomes manifold as he also tries to discover who the murderer is.
OK, so the premise has been done to death. But I liked it nonetheless. The murder aspect is done in a way so that the reader is kept guessing the whole way through. The book is well-researched, too, and gives a lot of feel for the period without it being too overwhelming. However, there are some plot holes. I thought it was a weak moment when Bruno totally forgot about the book he’s looking for, at least for a good long while. I don’t mean to give away spoilers, but I think the author should have wrapped up that strand of the story a bit more. Also, the author falls into the trap of having Sophia Underhill be too feisty, independent, and intelligent. I liked this book for the most part, and I enjoyed the author’s writing style very much.
Giordano di Bruno is an outsider in more ways than one, which is what makes him an appealing character. However, there were a few inconsistencies. Bruno is a master of the art of memory, but he has a hard time remembering the student who drew Doctor Coverdale away from the debate—especially odd considering the student has red hair, and even I with my bad memory would remember someone of that description! For an Italian, his English is remarkably good, isn’t it? Also, his reasoning for why he thinks his mysterious book is at Oxford is a little vague; he’s only basing it on hearsay, and as Bruno says himself, the book could be either at Oxford OR Cambridge. Despite these discrepancies, however, Bruno is an engaging narrator. I expect that this will probably be the first in the series, as there’s a paragraph at the end which sets that up.