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Heresy

Average Rating 3.5
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Most Helpful Favorable Review

7 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

A good historical fiction mystery thriller!

Here is a good historical fiction mystery thriller, my friends. Set in 1583, narrator Giordano Bruno, philosopher, excommunicate, heretic, and spy, travels to Oxford on the premise of staging a debate with the Oxford Rector. Unbeknownst to his hosts, Bruno is not just v...
Here is a good historical fiction mystery thriller, my friends. Set in 1583, narrator Giordano Bruno, philosopher, excommunicate, heretic, and spy, travels to Oxford on the premise of staging a debate with the Oxford Rector. Unbeknownst to his hosts, Bruno is not just visiting Oxford to display his skills at public speaking, he's also searching for a lost manuscript containing secrets of the universe as translated from Egyptian sorcerer Hermes Trismegistus. Additionally, he's been recruited by Queen Elizabeth's advisor, Sir Francis Walsingham, to root out secret sects of unconverted Catholics. When Oxford Fellows turn up murdered in the means of martyrs from a book, Bruno is also tasked to find the killer. Steeped in mystery, surrounded by lies and darkness amidst the stone walls of Oxford's colleges, and the swish of academic robes and hooded faces, Bruno hunts down a secret society, but can he expose the members and save the Rector's beautiful daughter before he himself is destroyed?

S.J. Parris is a pseudonym for author Stephanie Merritt, and this is her first novel. Her writing moves refreshingly swift for historical-fiction, with easy transitions and a contemporary voice. Her characters were plentiful, but each were richly executed. The story itself is imagined from Giordano Bruno's real life, he did in fact visit Oxford, and he was indeed favored by Queen Elizabeth. As written by Parris, he is intelligent and witty, with a slight charm to make him amusingly enjoyable. He is brave when confronted with danger, but not always courageous, suffering frequent bowel spasms and bouts of claustrophobia. He shows some slight weakness of character, but not enough to make me overly agitated. In general, I enjoyed Bruno, I just wish he hadn't fallen for the Rector's daughter, as his feelings for her made him weak.

There were many different reasons Bruno was visiting Oxford, and I was interested to see how Parris would play all the parts together. For the most part, they were all addressed successfully, but I could see her making a sequel with Bruno as the protagonist again, since not all the loose ends were tied, and he's very likable as detective-sleuth-philosopher.

Heresy is a good novel, enjoyable and a quick page-turner that kept me entertained. I can relate it to The Dante Club, only a bit more readable. I definitely look forward to seeing more from S.J. Parris in the future. I think if she sticks to the historical fiction genre she can definitely turn out some great reads.

posted by TheCrowdedLeaf on February 21, 2010

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Most Helpful Critical Review

2 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

Good Setting and Timeframe, Bland Story

This book has all the makings of a terrific historical mystery:
1) Great time and place - England during the Elizabethan era
2) Great contextual and cultural undercurrent - Catholicism v. Protestantism; and a growing world view that's building momentum towards the Ren...
This book has all the makings of a terrific historical mystery:
1) Great time and place - England during the Elizabethan era
2) Great contextual and cultural undercurrent - Catholicism v. Protestantism; and a growing world view that's building momentum towards the Renaissance.
3) Cool lead character - Giordano Bruno, a real life mystic/priest/heretic/scientist

Unfortunately, the author wasn't able to build upon this foundation with an interesting enough story. The three factors above all scream MAJOR MOTION PICTURE, but the actual plot whispers MADE FOR TV.

After escaping inquisition in Italy, an excommunicated Bruno finds himself in Oxford, England where he's scheduled to debate Oxford's Rector on the Copernican theory of the universe. First, one senior member of the faculty is murdered, then another, and then one more. Bruno takes it upon himself to dig into the evidence and naturally finds mystery and opposition at every turn.

I kept waiting for a nice strong 'gotcha' during the story. Sometimes those don't come until halfway through or even later, but, in this case, it never came. And this is the largest disappointment with the novel.

The writing is good. S.J.Parris is a wonderfully descriptive author. The moods and, in particular, the scenes are drawn very strongly. The secondary characters are not and I never felt a strong enough pull to root for or against them.

I'm keeping Harris' Bruno follow up on my wishlist because there are a enough interesting things going on in Bruno's world that I remain optimistic about the sequel.

posted by JGolomb on August 17, 2011

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  • Posted February 21, 2010

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    I Also Recommend:

    A good historical fiction mystery thriller!

    Here is a good historical fiction mystery thriller, my friends. Set in 1583, narrator Giordano Bruno, philosopher, excommunicate, heretic, and spy, travels to Oxford on the premise of staging a debate with the Oxford Rector. Unbeknownst to his hosts, Bruno is not just visiting Oxford to display his skills at public speaking, he's also searching for a lost manuscript containing secrets of the universe as translated from Egyptian sorcerer Hermes Trismegistus. Additionally, he's been recruited by Queen Elizabeth's advisor, Sir Francis Walsingham, to root out secret sects of unconverted Catholics. When Oxford Fellows turn up murdered in the means of martyrs from a book, Bruno is also tasked to find the killer. Steeped in mystery, surrounded by lies and darkness amidst the stone walls of Oxford's colleges, and the swish of academic robes and hooded faces, Bruno hunts down a secret society, but can he expose the members and save the Rector's beautiful daughter before he himself is destroyed?

    S.J. Parris is a pseudonym for author Stephanie Merritt, and this is her first novel. Her writing moves refreshingly swift for historical-fiction, with easy transitions and a contemporary voice. Her characters were plentiful, but each were richly executed. The story itself is imagined from Giordano Bruno's real life, he did in fact visit Oxford, and he was indeed favored by Queen Elizabeth. As written by Parris, he is intelligent and witty, with a slight charm to make him amusingly enjoyable. He is brave when confronted with danger, but not always courageous, suffering frequent bowel spasms and bouts of claustrophobia. He shows some slight weakness of character, but not enough to make me overly agitated. In general, I enjoyed Bruno, I just wish he hadn't fallen for the Rector's daughter, as his feelings for her made him weak.

    There were many different reasons Bruno was visiting Oxford, and I was interested to see how Parris would play all the parts together. For the most part, they were all addressed successfully, but I could see her making a sequel with Bruno as the protagonist again, since not all the loose ends were tied, and he's very likable as detective-sleuth-philosopher.

    Heresy is a good novel, enjoyable and a quick page-turner that kept me entertained. I can relate it to The Dante Club, only a bit more readable. I definitely look forward to seeing more from S.J. Parris in the future. I think if she sticks to the historical fiction genre she can definitely turn out some great reads.

    7 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 17, 2010

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    Masterful

    I was lucky enough to receive this as an early review copy. This is a novel based on the real life story of the 16th century monk Giordano Bruno. The story takes place during the time of the Inquisitions in Europe. Bruno was accused of heresy and was forced to flee his native Italy. Eventually, he winds up at Oxford in England, where he encounters grisly murders all tied in with the religious war he is fleeing from.

    Parris did a masterful job at creating the world of 16th century Europeans. This is not a fast-moving, suspense-filled murder mystery, so you will be disappointed if you expect that. However, this is an incredibly well-researched, well-written story that will thoroughly immerse you in a tumultuous period of history.

    This novel was unlike most anything I've ever read (in fiction) and I loved every word of it.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 17, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Good Setting and Timeframe, Bland Story

    This book has all the makings of a terrific historical mystery:
    1) Great time and place - England during the Elizabethan era
    2) Great contextual and cultural undercurrent - Catholicism v. Protestantism; and a growing world view that's building momentum towards the Renaissance.
    3) Cool lead character - Giordano Bruno, a real life mystic/priest/heretic/scientist

    Unfortunately, the author wasn't able to build upon this foundation with an interesting enough story. The three factors above all scream MAJOR MOTION PICTURE, but the actual plot whispers MADE FOR TV.

    After escaping inquisition in Italy, an excommunicated Bruno finds himself in Oxford, England where he's scheduled to debate Oxford's Rector on the Copernican theory of the universe. First, one senior member of the faculty is murdered, then another, and then one more. Bruno takes it upon himself to dig into the evidence and naturally finds mystery and opposition at every turn.

    I kept waiting for a nice strong 'gotcha' during the story. Sometimes those don't come until halfway through or even later, but, in this case, it never came. And this is the largest disappointment with the novel.

    The writing is good. S.J.Parris is a wonderfully descriptive author. The moods and, in particular, the scenes are drawn very strongly. The secondary characters are not and I never felt a strong enough pull to root for or against them.

    I'm keeping Harris' Bruno follow up on my wishlist because there are a enough interesting things going on in Bruno's world that I remain optimistic about the sequel.

    2 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 25, 2011

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    eh, it was ok

    I really really really really really wanted to like this book. Barnes & Noble was having a "Buy 2 get the 3rd Free" sale and this one especially caught my eye and was the first one I picked up. Being quite the historical fiction fan, I figured this was a no-brainer - I get to learn about history and be part of a murder mystery? It's a win-win!

    Unfortunately, as I continued through the chapters, my excitement decreased rather than increased. The characters were flat and inconsistent, including the protagonist, Giordano Bruno. The real Bruno had such an exciting life with fascinating ideas on religion and the universe, and this fails to come through in the fictional Bruno. It was even hard for me to find sympathy for Sophia, who has no convictions and is love-sick for a man who would possibly kill her.

    The mystery itself - finding the killer of 3 men at Oxford - was the only thing that kept me reading. I enjoy mysteries and try to figure out the killer before the people in the book do (though I'm usually not very good at it). And it was pretty twisted once it was revealed, so with that part of the book I was impressed. The character of Rowland Jenkes intrigued me, too, especially since he was a book binder, and he disappears at the end, so maybe he'll return in a future Bruno adventure. Though I may not ever find out...

    Actual heresy was definitely a good foundation for the novel, as the victims were Catholics in the time of Protestantism and Bruno apprehended a priest at the end and sent him to the authorities in London. But I felt that it was just the tip of the heresy iceberg, and the author could have gone into much more detail about heresy and its implications, especially since Bruno himself was neither Catholic nor Protestant. Once again, maybe as the books continue, there will be more. Though I was impressed at the demonstration of Queen Elizabeth I in a not so appealing light; most of the books I've read laud her accomplishments and hardly anyone mentions that the Catholics must have hated her.

    This book had such potential! But it what little suspense it had was depleted by the lack of momentum. There were large paragraphs describing the college and how Bruno was feeling, and the actual action took some time to get going. I was looking forward to a book about the dark times of heresy in an era where following your own faith could cause death, and all I got was an excommunicated Italian monk investigating a murder mystery.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 26, 2011

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    The real life intelligent elucidate Bruno tells the tale mostly of his time in Oxford in 1583

    In the late sixteenth century the Roman Catholic Church excommunicated Monk Giordano Bruno for his heretic belief in the Copernicus theory of a heliocentric system. He has no safe haven as the Inquisition hunts him in order to burn him at the stake for daring to espouse that the sun is the center of the universe. Still he flees his Naples monastery just before the Father Inquisitor comes for him heading to Paris and then London where he prays he will find respite in Queen Elizabeth's anti papal reign.

    In 1583 the queen's Secretary of State Sir Francis Walsingham asks Bruno to visit to Oxford to look for treasonous Catholic scholars. He agrees as he wants to go to Oxford but in search of the fifteenth book of Ancient Egyptian High Priest Hermes Trismegistus who wrote in this tome his understanding of the "Divine Mind". However, the defrocked monk never expected to be the hub of gruesome homicides.

    The real life intelligent elucidate Bruno tells the tale mostly of his time in Oxford in 1583. He makes the story line fun as a wonderful historical thriller. The serial murder mystery engages the reader also, but takes a back seat to the divided deadly dogma of religious loyalties during the Elizabethan Era as portrayed by the excommunicated enlightened monk.

    Harriet Klausner

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 31, 2013

    more from this reviewer

    This is the first in the Giordano Bruno series, and my second re

    This is the first in the Giordano Bruno series, and my second reading of this novel.

    This novel promised so much more than it delivered.  Using Giordano Bruno (an Italian Dominican Friar 1548 – 1600) as the main protagonist was a stroke of inspiration that the Author did not pursue to its full potential, and the title led me to believe that I would be reading a fictional take on the road that led to this man being burnt at the stake for heresy in 1600.  Given all the information that is to be found on this extraordinary man, who was living before his time, the Authors character development of him was not only weak but insulting to the Friar himself; a complete opposite to the treatment given to Bruno in “Aegypt” by John Crowley.  Instead of utilising the traits of Bruno’s character and weaving them into her novel, the Author tends to dismiss them offhand which placed him in the “too much of the good guy” mould and made him appear a nice man which, given the ideas he had and the times he lived in, he probably wasn’t; but in this I am just speculating.  The one thing that the reader may get from the painting of the protagonist in this way is an urge to find out more about the real life happenings of Bruno.  Other characters in the novel are treated with the same offhand approach, and none of them were developed to the point where the reader could truly feel compassion for their situation or connect with them in any way.  With this said, I will acknowledge that the Author chose her protagonist well, as there is a wealth of information out there for them to be able to develop Bruno in a more believable way, and possibly turn this series into something remarkable.  

    The book is actually a murder mystery and, in this area the Author did an outstanding job of using this vehicle to get to the religious subtext, and bring it to the forefront.  In their descriptions of the horrific murders and torture that are committed in the name of religion throughout this book, the Author reminds us that atrocities have been, and continue to be perpetrated in the name of religion; that modern day conflicts centred around faith, are no less ruthless or determined about cementing the survival of their beliefs than those involved in The Inquisition.  The location descriptions actually pull the reader in to the novel more than the characters, and they are made to feel as if they are walking through unsanitary streets and palace grounds and, in some parts of the novel actually fearing for their lives because of their beliefs.

    I read this novel twice in the belief, as is sometimes the case when I re-read something, I would pick up on the hidden key that would open it up and reveal all its hidden gems, but this was not to be the case unfortunately.  The lack of fleshing out the characters and giving me a protagonist that evoked emotion in me was still there and I had not missed anything in my first read through; this decided my review rating.  Personally, I did not think this favourably compared with the two novels mentioned in the synopsis, “the Dante Club by Matthew Pearl or “The Alienist” by Caleb Carr; both novels I found to be infinitely more superior.

    However, despite all this, I would recommend this novel to those lovers of the historical fiction genre and especially those who like their history with a slight religious bent.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 18, 2012

    Decent

    But if you aren't interested in astrology and the like, you pprobably won't care fior it or the others in this series

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 2, 2012

    Heresy

    being somewhat a history buff, a very enjoyable read - so glad I decided to purchase!

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  • Posted November 21, 2011

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    Good story

    It's hard to believe Christianity survived during this trying time period. The history in this book reminds we, as Americans, support the separation of church and state. The church was a powerful political force over the ages and this story relates the struggles of ordinary people during that time.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 2, 2010

    disappointed

    I really wanted to like this book. It just never grabbed me. I'd put it down with the thought of giving up, then I'd pick it up again hoping something would get interesting. It frustrated me. I finally skipped to the Epilogue to see how it ended and felt a little guilty for giving up on it, but also happy it was over and I could just move on.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 10, 2010

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    Pretty good, surprisingly

    Right off the bat, it took me a while to get into it because the back - and sometimes front - of my mind was arguing over if "AN historical" is grammatically correct or not. I feel like it is not, or at least that "a historical novel" would be fine, but who knows. I pronounce the H in "historical" but maybe other people don't? Book itself is fine; main character is Giordano Bruno, so that's interesting, and it takes place during his visit to Elizabeth's Oxford to debate Copernican theory, while secretly holding a commission from Walsingham. Not super grippping, but enjoyable. And the murder mystery part doesn't feel too contrived, which I appreciate. Sometimes the whole "famous historical figure solves crimes" genre can just be sooo forced and artificial, but Bruno doesn't feel like he's been shoe-horned into a mystery the author created. At least, his involvement in the story reads organically. Approaching the improabable naturalness of the Jane Austen mysteries by Stephanie Barron, which is saying a lot (at least if I am saying it)!

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  • Posted April 23, 2010

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    So-so mystery, so-so history

    Parris contrives to have both a historical drama and a mystery and handles neither with any assertion or aplomb. The novel is anemic, with dull characters and even duller historical allusions. Yes, there were horrific acts perpetrated in the name of Christianity in Europe in the past. You can scarcely scratch the surface of the time period without finding appalling behavior all in the name of religion. Parris treats us to several graphic and gory images of savagery, with little point except to put them in the novel. They do not inform or advance the plot. The plot itself is pedestrian, the perpetrator, when uncovered, is uninteresting. More interesting personages are glossed over and handled in cardboard fashion. There is nothing of consequence of the era to deepen the plot or to expand the interest of the reader. The novel could have been set in modern LA without changing much of the action and with the elimination of some gore. All in all a very average novel.

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  • Posted April 19, 2010

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    Heresy Review

    Heresy by S. J. Parris was an interesting and informative historical thriller.
    Again, the Tudors make it into a story of religion, faith, and women in the world of men. Alone, Sophia, stands as the only female character in this book of religion, murder, love and a little occult. Does Sophia symbolize Queen Elizabeth I? One woman in the middle of religious conflict. Elizabeth I wanted to find a compromise between her stong-willed siblings. Wasn't she just looking for Catholics trying to kill her? Unlike Elizabeth, Sophia was willing to do anything for love. She would shame her family, give up her family and even delve into the occult for the man she loves.

    Murder is not uncommon in this world of religious upheaval, and shocking and brutal murders seem to be the sign of the times.

    The monk, Bruno, is the fascinating main character. He seems to be a level presence to many characters headed to marytrdom. His character is the only person who seems to be looking for truth. Bruno finally finds the truth and it is not what most readers will expect.

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  • Posted April 11, 2010

    Fascinating mystery & a look at a tumultuous era

    Oxford in 1583, the reign of Elizabeth I. Enter Giordano Bruno, a former monk wanted by the Inquisition on charges of heresy for his belief in an infinite heliocentric universe. Despite being a fugitive, Bruno has made powerful friends and is accompanying his friend Sir Philip Sidney and a Polish noble on a visit to the city as a cover for gathering intelligence about a possible Catholic plot against the Queen. Suddenly Oxford fellows begin dying in very spectacular ways, and Bruno sets out to find the killer.

    The plot keeps moving, as the reader waits to see who will die next and how. The sights, sounds, and smells of Elizabethan England are vividly described. I learned a lot about the period from this book. For example, I had not been aware that there had been an actual Papal bull calling for the assassination of Queen Elizabeth. Clearly, many innocent Catholics suffered from overzealous defenders of the Queen, but at least I can better understand their motivation. The first-person narrative is effective, and the writing does a good job of suggesting a slightly archaic style without being hard for the contemporary reader to understand.

    Unlike many thrillers, in this book it is hard to tell the good guys from the bad, and this complexity makes the book unusually good. The tragic consequences of religious intolerance for both individuals and society are starkly evident. There are no saints in this book, and love for one's neighbor is in short supply. However, for the most part the flawed humans are sympathetic, and the reader sees the tension of living during years of whipsawing from Catholicism to Protestantism during Henry VIII, back to Catholicism during Mary's rule, and then to Protestantism again when Elizabeth came to the throne.

    What are the book's weaknesses? I would have liked a better sense of the characters, especially Bruno. For example, reportedly he was a charming man, which seems evident from his ability to attract powerful patrons despite being a very controversial person, but this charm is not evident in Heresy.

    One common feature of many historical novels that would have made Heresy even more satisfying for me would be a short appendix giving some of the historical background so that readers like me who are only vaguely acquainted with Bruno can sort fact from fiction. Given how fascinating and complex a person Bruno was, I'd recommend looking him up in wikipedia or a similar reference to gain a better context for the story.

    Despite a few flaws, Heresy is well worth your time. You'll be highly entertained, learn about a tumultuous era and a fascinating personage, and be provoked to think about the possible consequences of religious intolerance. That is a lot for one book to deliver!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 8, 2010

    Great historical thriller

    I picked this book up because it's historical fiction, and the intrigue has kept me captivated as well. As a Catholic, the history of religious turmoil always astounds me, and I can't imagine living in a time where throughout the world, not just in certain places, you could be tried, convicted and put to death for your religion that changed almost with the wind and reigning sovereign of the time. The characters all have depth, hidden agendas and the secrets everyone hides all eventually are uncovered and brought to light. I would highly recommend this book as a great view into life during the Golden Age in Britain's history.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 29, 2010

    I enjoyed the mystery about a subject that is part of our history.

    A recommend this book to anyone that loves a good who-dun-it.

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  • Posted March 27, 2010

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    I Also Recommend:

    Medieval Monks with a twist!

    This book was a lot of fun to read. I love mysteries and I love history and this blended the two wonderfully.

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  • Posted March 27, 2010

    I really liked this book. The entire concept of the book keep me enthralled. I am looking forward to more books by S. J. Parris.

    This book kept my attention to the very end. The way the tale was spun and the diversity of characters had me hooked. I love books dealing with medieval times, the monarchy, strife in the Church and political conflicts and this book filled all my needs.

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  • Posted March 23, 2010

    Really Really enjoyed it

    My personal favorites include several of the Harry Potter books, Angels and Demons, the Lost Symbol and the Divinci Code. Although Heresy is not the Davinci Code its along those lines. Its an historical thriller with lots of twists and turns. The story line moved right along and I found myself wanting to read just one more page every night before I put it down. I really enjoyed reading this and highly recommend it.

    Bob B.

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  • Posted March 16, 2010

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    Unorthodox

    Heresy is an historical novel telling the tale of Giordano Bruno's visitation to Oxford during the reign of Elizabeth I of England. The book smoothly blends facts and fiction to give us a very engaging tale of a mystery surrounding this man of many dimensions. As a young man, he was trained as a Catholic monk in Italy until his unorthodox views of the universe and Christian religion necessitated his timely departure, one step ahead of the Inquisition. He eventually gravitated to England hoping its non-Catholic religion would prove a safe haven while he wrote and continued to study and develop his theories. He finds himself in Oxford on the trail of a book banned through out Europe. He stumbles into a nest of intrigue and murder, surrounding an enclave of Catholic believers in the Protestant country. Bruno quickly finds that his Italian nationality and previous association with the Roman Church sometimes works for him and sometimes against. The book quickly draws us deeply into the factions working at cross purposes at this time in Elizabethan England. The writing flows smoothly, blending facts and fiction into a tight mystery. The characters almost beg to given another adventure as they come to life in the story.

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