A Burnable Book

A Burnable Book

3.8 9
by Bruce Holsinger
     
 

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In Chaucer's London, betrayal, murder, royal intrigue, mystery, and dangerous politics swirl around the existence of a prophetic book that foretells the deaths of England's kings. Bruce Holsinger's A Burnable Book is an irresistible historical thriller reminiscent of the classics An Instance of the Fingerpost, The Name of the Rose,

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Overview

In Chaucer's London, betrayal, murder, royal intrigue, mystery, and dangerous politics swirl around the existence of a prophetic book that foretells the deaths of England's kings. Bruce Holsinger's A Burnable Book is an irresistible historical thriller reminiscent of the classics An Instance of the Fingerpost, The Name of the Rose, and The Crimson Petal and the White.

London, 1385. Surrounded by ruthless courtiers—including his powerful uncle, John of Gaunt, and Gaunt's artful mistress, Katherine Swynford—England's young, still untested king, Richard II, is in mortal peril, and the danger is only beginning. Songs are heard across London—catchy verses said to originate from an ancient book that prophesies the end of England's kings—and among the book's predictions is Richard's assassination.

Only a few powerful men know that the cryptic lines derive from a "burnable book," a seditious work that threatens the stability of the realm. To find the manuscript, wily bureaucrat Geoffrey Chaucer turns to fellow poet John Gower, a professional trader in information with connections high and low. Gower discovers that the book and incriminating evidence about its author have fallen into the unwitting hands of innocents, who will be drawn into a labyrinthine conspiracy that reaches from the king's court to London's slums and stews—and potentially implicates his own son. As the intrigue deepens, it becomes clear that Gower, a man with secrets of his own, may be the last hope to save a king from a terrible fate.

Medieval scholar Bruce Holsinger draws on his vast knowledge of the period to add colorful, authentic detail—on everything from poetry and bookbinding to court intrigues and brothels—to this highly entertaining and brilliantly constructed epic literary mystery that brings medieval England gloriously to life.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
★ 01/20/2014
MedievalistHolsinger (Neomedievalism, Neoconservatism, and the War on Terror) delivers a first novel whose zest, breadth, and color evoke The Canterbury Tales. In 1385, Geoffrey Chaucer asks fellow poet and dealer in information, John Gower, to find a cryptic manuscript that predicts specifically how the current monarch, Richard II, will be assassinated. Gower discovers that the book has been stolen from Westminster by an unidentified woman, later murdered; dying, she gave it to a common prostitute, who is now hiding it in London. As treasonous texts begin to inflame an already dissatisfied populace, Gower realizes that the king, the book’s possessor, and his friend Chaucer are in danger, and his own son is threatened as well. For the first time, he finds himself at the mercy of other men’s secrets, rather than in control of them. Though the period’s unfamiliar terms and figures can be confusing, the intricate plot, sharp characterizations, and sweeping depiction of medieval England make this a memorable fiction debut. Agent: Helen Heller, Helen Heller Agency (Canada). (Mar.)
Kirkus Reviews
2014-01-05
In 1385 London, the race is on to recover a missing book. Outside the walls of London, Agnes, a "maudlyn," or prostitute, observes the murder, by a cloaked, Italian-speaking thug, of a young woman, whose dress and accent bespeak noble birth. Agnes leaves the scene with a hidden prize: a book wrapped in a delicate tapestry. Meanwhile, John Gower, the 14th-century equivalent of a grizzled detective, has gotten wind of a conspiracy against the reigning king, Richard II, son of Edward the Black Prince and nephew of John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster. The plot may have been fomented by the followers of the recently executed heretic Wycliffe, who are using the prophecies of one Lollius, an ancient Roman, as a blueprint. Lollius, it seems, predicted the manner of death of each English sovereign since William the Conqueror, and there is one prediction yet to be fulfilled: that on St. Dunstan's Day, near a bishop's palace, butchers—abetted by a Long Castle (Lancaster)—will lie in wait to slay the current monarch. As it happens, these prophecies are contained in Agnes' contraband volume, which has fallen into the hands of her sister Millicent, who hopes to sell it to restore herself to the middle-class existence she once attained as a knight's mistress. Trouble is, possession of a "burnable book," one that embodies heresy and/or threats to the king's person, is high treason. Gower and his friend Geoffrey Chaucer are hot on the tome's trail when Gower's sinister son, Simon, returns inopportunely from exile abroad. Enter Agnes' best friend Eleanor/Edgar, a transvestite, whose main goal is to free his brother Gerald, a butcher's apprentice, from the clutches of his cruel master, Grimes. Gerald has overheard Grimes planning just the sort of butchery envisioned by the book. Although the burgeoning web of plots and plotlines is dauntingly complex, the determined reader will be rewarded with a fascinating overview of pre-Renaissance London at its best and worst. A highly literate thriller from medievalist Holsinger.
David Liss
“Everything you want in a work of historical fiction: fascinating, rich in period detail, and propelled by a compulsively engaging story. Even better, it’s clever and witty…a superb entertainment.”
New York Times Book Review
“The poet John Gower is the perfect narrator and amateur sleuth. . . . Holsinger’s research, alongside the energetic vulgarity of a language in flux, delivers up a world where even the filth is colorful.”
Washington Post
“Holsinger is a graceful guide to the 14th century, lacing his thriller with just the right seasoning of antique words and all the necessary historical detail without any of the fusty smell of a documentary.”
NPR
” ‘A Burnable Book’ is fragrant with the stench of medieval London. . . . The central mystery of the book leads us through the mucky lanes of London, with cunning surprises around every corner. . . . jam-packed tapestry of medieval England.”
Richmond Times-Dispatch
“Spellbinding . . . A Burnable Book exemplifies the best in historical fiction.”

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780062240323
Publisher:
HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
02/18/2014
Series:
John Gower Series, #1
Pages:
464
Sales rank:
358,165
Product dimensions:
6.20(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.60(d)

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