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Posted August 19, 2005
17th-century books as plunder and as weapons
London is a city of coal cinders and rat droppings -- at the first level this is a gritty, detailed evocation of everyday urban life in the 1660s by a remarkably young author. At a second it's a pleasingly intelligent bibliothriller, exploring not only the period's book trade but also the value and power of the private libraries of royals and the nobility both as prizes to plunder and as ideological weapons to deploy in the wars of religion. This was an era when there were not yet so many books that a highly educated person could not at least aspire to read more or less universally. On yet another plane Ex-Libris looks at the emergence of first tender shoots of modern science from the compost of alchemy, astrology and even more mystical influences. Cartography and navigation of the seas figure prominently. Finally it delves the ongoing ideological struggle between spritual and secular ways of seeking knowledge, as the Catholic Church labors to suppress the ideas of Copernicus, Galileo and others. A thoughful reader may well ponder whether we have progressed very far since the seventeenth century.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted September 15, 2003
A Let Down from the build up
Considering the works that it was compared too, like ' The Name of the Rose' you begin with high expectations. The only comparison of the two is the constant referal of medieval text titles, as for the suspense it was lame . The ending was like a re-enactment of the House of Usher by Poe. Note: The term Ex-Libris was not even used til 1880.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted November 8, 2002
5 stars for atmosphere, 3 stars for plotting
This story centers around a 17th century bookseller, shortly after the Restoration, who is sent on a possibly futile but presumably innocent search for a missing book. He has been drawn, unwittingly into international intrigue and his life is placed in jeopardy by unknown persons. A second plot gives the background as it was played out in the political situation of forty years earlier. The reader's reaction to this book is likely to be determined by the relative value that they place on backdrop and plotting. I think that King's real purpose in producing this book was to give the reader a look at 17th century Europe and a variety of arcana. This is usually extremely interesting, if occasionally excessive in its detail. He seems to regard telling a story as a necessary evil and the resulting plot is pretty feeble. This raises the question, what's wrong with non-fiction? But King opts for a novel and uses the tried and true vehicle of the naif drawn unwittingly into a complex plot and pursued by mysterious and sinister persons. Or in this case, two naifs, for two interrelated stories are being told, one in 1620 and one in 1660. King maintains suspense by the crude but effective method of switching to the other story just as something dramatic happens. Unfortunately, the story-telling is pretty sloppy - I cannot fathom why Emilia Molyneux is in the story: obviously to serve as the 1620 naif, but why would the Plessington and Jirasek have wanted to be burdened with her? For that matter, King doesn't really end their story properly, he just drops it and perfunctorily relates a few details in the course of the 1660 story. King also sticks in an implausible subplot relating to a coded message which is simply left hanging. I presume the entire point was to display some esoterica about codes and he forgot that it was supposed to be tied into the overall story. The 1660 tale comes to an incredible ending; I leave it to the reader's taste to decide if it is too fantastic and might be said to render the entire tale pointless. I hope I've said enough to be helpful: there is no arguing taste.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted June 21, 2001
Fine Historical Detail
Ex-Libris serves up a fine story of intrigue, betrayals, secret codes and obscure puzzles as it moves between 1660 England and Prague in 1620. Let the reader of light literature be forewarned: this is not the novel to skim through on a hot day at the beach. There are details galore about early bookbinding, ancient texts, 17th century mapmaking, and European history. The story itself requires close reading; I had to return to parts of it at the end to make sure I understood the import of certain events, and even then it was not always clear. However, bibliophiles and history buffs will enjoy this fascinating tale of a common man caught in a web of secrets and deception.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted December 9, 2008
Superb historical fiction
In 1660, Lady Marchamont petitions London bookseller Isaac Inchbold proprietor of Nonsuch Books to visit her in Dorsetshire. Since Isaac never leaves London and is such a creature of habit, anyone who knows him is stunned when he decides to travel to the countryside. Yet the strange note sends an intrigued Isaac journeying to Pontifex Hall. <P>Lady Marchamont hires Isaac to restore her library to its former glory before looters ransacked it during the civil war. In particular, she wants the bookworm to locate an antiquated heretical tome, ¿The Labyrinth of the World¿ identified by her murdered father in his EX-LIBRIS. Intrigued not only by the immense fee, Isaac begins a quest that places his life in danger. <P>EX-LIBRIS is a superb historical thriller that grips the readers with its in depth look at seventeenth century Europe. Even more interesting is the clever historiographical look by the 1660 Isaac back to the Civil War. The story line is fast-paced as Isaac tells his tale in the first person so that the audience completely understands him as a likable chap whose simple existence turns frustrating with troubles. More novels like this one will lead to Ross King ruling the genre. <P>Harriet KlausnerWas this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.