by S.J. Parris
Reviewed by Margaret Donsbach
On the brink of a heresy trial after being discovered reading Erasmus in the privy of his monastery, Giordano Bruno fled. He wandered Europe for a time, lived in Paris under the protection of Henri III, and traveled to England in 1583. There, one scholar has proposed, he may have become a spy for Queen Elizabeth's secretary Francis Walsingham. With Copernicus, Bruno believed the Earth orbited the sun, but he also thought the universe was infinite and the sun one of many stars orbited by planets.
Arriving at Oxford University hoping to share his astronomical theories with a community of thoughtful scholars, Bruno instead lands amid a covertly seething conflict between the Protestant rector installed by Elizabeth's ministers and the venerable professors who renounced their Catholic faith to keep their positions. Both sides ridicule his theories. Then a series of grisly murders seem to mimic episodes from the rector's favorite text, John Foxe's Book of Martyrs. As Bruno investigates, he becomes indispensable to some parties, threatening to others.
Bruno's philosophy briefly gets the story rolling as he searches for a missing volume of esoteric magic, but his ideas are not central to the plot and never impede the mystery's pacing. A list of characters would have been helpful, as some of the academics introduced during a group dinner are less individually memorable than others. The most important characters, though, including the rector's beautiful and learned daughter, are indeed distinctive. The most surprising parts of Heresy are grounded in the historical record, as when Bruno tells a friend, "The divinity is in all of us and in the substance of the universe. . . . When we understand this, we can become equal to God." (2010, 435 pages)
More about Heresy at Powell's Books or Amazon.com
Interview with author S.J. Parris
Other novels about the Renaissance quest for knowledge of the universe:
The Alchemist's Apprentice by Dave Duncan (2007), a mystery featuring sixteenth-century prophet Nostradamus and his fictional apprentice.
The House of Doctor Dee by Peter Ackroyd (1993), about a modern man who inherits the house that belonged to Queen Elizabeth's astrologer and begins having mysterious visions. See Review or More info at Powell's Books
Doctor Copernicus by John Banville (1976), about Nicolaus Copernicus, the Polish scholar who formulated the theory that the Earth revolved around the sun. More info
Nonfiction about Giordano Bruno:
Giordano Bruno and the Embassy Affair by John Bossy (1991), explores the author's theory that Giordano Bruno served as a spy for Francis Walsingham. More info
Giordano Bruno: Philosopher Heretic by Ingrid Rowland (2008). More info
Giordano Bruno and Renaissance Science by Hilary Gatti (1999). More info
Giordano Bruno article at Wikipedia
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