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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.