3.6 97
by S. J. Parris

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Masterfully blending true events with fiction, this blockbuster historical thriller delivers a page-turning murder mystery set on the sixteenth-century Oxford University campus.

Giordano Bruno was a monk, poet, scientist, and magician on the run from the Roman Inquisition on charges of heresy for his belief that the Earth orbits the sun and that the

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Masterfully blending true events with fiction, this blockbuster historical thriller delivers a page-turning murder mystery set on the sixteenth-century Oxford University campus.

Giordano Bruno was a monk, poet, scientist, and magician on the run from the Roman Inquisition on charges of heresy for his belief that the Earth orbits the sun and that the universe is infinite. This alone could have got him burned at the stake, but he was also a student of occult philosophies and magic.

In S. J. Parris's gripping novel, Bruno's pursuit of this rare knowledge brings him to London, where he is unexpectedly recruited by Queen Elizabeth I and is sent undercover to Oxford University on the pretext of a royal visitation. Officially Bruno is to take part in a debate on the Copernican theory of the universe; unofficially, he is to find out whatever he can about a Catholic plot to overthrow the queen.

His mission is dramatically thrown off course by a series of...

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Editorial Reviews

Anna Mundow
…a vigorous philosophical thriller that wastes no time getting to the point…Parris, an economical writer, keeps the mysticism in check as she portrays Bruno, with his sly, agile intelligence, encountering the dark, introverted world of Oxford, where fear and suspicion prevail. Foul weather and dank courtyards, both vividly described, conceal not only dissent, it turns out, but murder.
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly
Set in 1583 against a backdrop of religious-political intrigue and barbaric judicial reprisals, Parris’s compelling debut centers on real-life Giordano Bruno, a former Italian monk excommunicated by the Roman Catholic church and hunted across Europe by the Inquisition for his belief in a heliocentric infinite universe. Befriended by the charismatic English courtier and soldier Sir Philip Sidney, the ambitious Bruno flees to more tolerant Protestant England, where Elizabeth I’s secretary of state, Sir Francis Walsingham, recruits him to spy, under the cover of philosophical disputation, on secretly Catholic Oxford scholars suspected of plotting treason. As one Oxford fellow after another falls to gruesome homicide, Bruno struggles to unravel Oxford’s “tangled loyalties.” Parris (the pseudonym of British journalist Stephanie Merritt) interweaves historical fact with psychological insight as Bruno, a humanist dangerously ahead of his time, begins his quest to light the fire of enlightenment in Europe. (Feb.)
Library Journal
Readers first meet Dominican monk Giordano Bruno as he examines a prohibited text in the monastery privy. Discontented with the Church's teachings, Bruno is a believer of Copernicus's heliocentric theory of the universe. After escaping the Inquisition, he spends years on the run, offering his services as a teacher and ever on the lookout for Hermes Trismegistus's divine Egyptian text. To be Catholic in 1583 England is synonymous with sedition, and an odd twist of fate sees Bruno employed by Queen Elizabeth. His cover: to participate in a debate at Oxford; his purpose: to ferret out heresy at the university. What Bruno finds is a lovely young woman, a group of secretive Fellows, and a series of brutal murders. VERDICT Parris's debut historical thriller shines a light on the religious turmoil of 16th-century England, when men swore an oath to one faith but practiced another. Narrator Bruno (based on the real-life philosopher) is lively and sympathetic, and dedicated readers will be wholly satisfied in the end. Recommended for fans of historical thrillers along the lines of Katherine Neville's The Eight and Matthew Pearl's The Dante Club. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 10/1/09; also available as an abridged audio CD, abridged audiobook download, unabridged audiobook download, and an ebook.—Ed.]—Jamie Kallio, Thomas Ford Memorial Lib., Western Springs, IL
Kirkus Reviews
Densely plotted and paced historical thriller set in Elizabethan Oxford combines spying and a serial killer with the quest for a world-order-threatening lost book. Pseudonymous author Parris (aka British journalist Stephanie Merritt) weaves a shrewd commercial web around the real-life figure of Giordano Bruno, an exiled, excommunicated Italian monk whose passion for knowledge led to accusations of heresy. Escaping his Neapolitan monastery and the Father Inquisitor, Bruno heads north, makes his reputation as a philosopher at the French court, then visits London, where popish plots are feared and treasonable suspects brutally tortured and gruesomely executed by Queen Elizabeth's minions. Sir Francis Walsingham, the queen's secretary of state, asks Bruno to exploit a visit to Oxford and look for plotting Catholics. But Bruno's real quest is to find the 15th book of Hermes Trismegistus, a high priest in ancient Egypt who "claimed to have entered and understood the Divine Mind"; the missing book will supposedly reveal the secrets he learned. Parris balances the cerebral elements of her story with more popular ones: a series of savage, themed murders; an opinionated, attractive, imperiled female; and the inclusion around Bruno of other real-life figures, notably Sir Philip Sidney. The murders stack up, the pace becomes helter-skelter and the action overloaded as Bruno, in pursuit of a corrupt Jesuit priest, confronts endless perils before justice is finally and bloodily served. Spirited storytelling, an appealing sleuth and a cool, mutilated villain will lead readers to hope this is the launch of a series.
From the Publisher
“A vigorous philosophical thriller. . . . Bruno commands our attention and our sympathy as any likable heretic should.” —The Washington Post Book World

Heresy is a must-read for every fan of historical thrillers. . . . Giordano Bruno turns out to be that rare hero, charismatic and nuanced enough to impel an encore, and to leave us asking for more.” —Matthew Pearl, author of The Dante Club

“Move over C. J. Sansom, S.J. Parris has arrived…. Brilliant.” —The Globe and Mail (Toronto)
“An intelligent and nail-biting debut.” —The Daily Beast
Heresy has everything—intrigue, mystery, excellent history and haunting sense of place.  The beginning of a wonderful new detective series.”  —Kate Mosse, author of Labyrinth

“Set in the time of Elizabeth I, Heresy could happily follow on Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall about Henry VIII and his relationship with Thomas Cromwell. Both evoke the tensions, turbulence and cruelty of Tudor England.” —The Oxford Times
“The famous scientist Giordano Bruno, erupts with volcanic force from the pages of S. J. Parris’s spellbinding debut novel, Heresy. Blending the philosophical sleuthing skills of Brother Cadfael with the magic sorcery of Voldemort, Bruno cracks the secret code, unraveling a church conspiracy as deep and dark as that in a Dan Brown novel.” —Katherine Neville, bestselling author of The Eight and The Fire
“Grafts a powerful murder mystery onto the novel of academia. . . . Complex and carefully controlled. . . . Readers who like to immerse themselves in a good tale . . . will undoubtedly enjoy this book.” —The Washington Times
“A splendid, unputdownable whodunit.” —Edward Rutherfurd, author of London
“As colorful, multi-layered, and criminally creative a story as any mystery lover could wish for. . . . From Cobbett the gatekeeper to the complex Bruno himself, Parris pours extraordinary care and human insight into her creations.” —Historical Novels Review
“This is a mystery of religion and politics at its best. . . . [A] stimulating blend of philosophy, religion and the academic life.” —Curled Up With a Good Book
Parris succeeds where much historical fiction fails in making her characters enlightened rather than medieval village idiots. The collegiate infighting could be from Lucky Jim.” —The Observer (London)
“Atmospheric and well-written. . . . Bruno is a clever choice of hero because of the way he seems not merely modern but actually to stand outside of history. . . . Fascinatingly sincere.” —The Guardian (London)
Heresy is a riveting read. Rich in both historical detail and ingenious twists, S. J. Parris has created a character in Giordano Bruno that will endure. A true rival to C. J. Sansom.” —Sam Bourne, bestselling author of The Righteous Men
“The Eco-echoes are resonant enough to lend Heresy more than a pinch of [The Name of the Rose’s] magic. . . . Parris paces her yarn perfectly.” —The Telegraph (London)
“Fascinating . . . The period is incredibly vivid and the story utterly gripping. Cadfael can't hold a candle to this.” —Conn Iggulden, New York Times bestselling author of The Dangerous Book for Boys
“A rich, dark and utterly gripping tale, paced to perfection and populated with a glorious cast of characters.” —Mark Mills, bestselling author of The Savage Garden

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Product Details

Doubleday Publishing
Publication date:

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1548, Nola, Kingdom of Naples - Filippo Bruno is born

1565 - At the age of 17, Bruno enters the Dominican Order at the famous Monastery of San Domenico Maggiore and takes the name Giordano. He becomes quickly known for his outspokenness and for getting himself into trouble.

Historical Fact: The great Thomas Aquinas lived and taught at San Domenico

1572 - Bruno becomes an ordained priest at the young age of 24. He begins to develop his skill with the art of memory and demonstrates his mnemonic devices before Pope Pius V and Cardinal Rebiba in Rome.

1576 - Bruno is forced to flee the Monastery when he is discovered with a copy of the banned writings of Erasmus and an indictment of heresy is brought against him.

"Time is the father of truth, its mother is our mind"-Giordano Bruno

1579 - A fugitive from the Holy Roman Inquisition, Bruno arrives in Geneva, where he is known to have entered his name in the Rector's Book of the University of Geneva.

1580 - Bruno flees to Paris, where he enjoys the protection of powerful French patrons and gains fame for his amazing tricks of memory, which many attribute to magical powers. He even attracts the attention of King Henry III himself! Bruno publishes three books in this period, including The Art Of Memory.

1583 - Bruno arrives in England, with a letter of recommendation from King Henry III, where he stays with the French ambassador Michel de Castelnau and meets poet Sir Philip Sidney. A prolific writer, Bruno published several more books in England, including the highly controversial On The Infinite Universe and Worlds.

Historical Fact: Bruno gained a personal audience with Queen Elizabeth I while in England. He later wrote of her, calling her "a diva."

Historical Fact: During the Eighty Years' War, Sir Philip Sidney was shot in the thigh in battle and died shortly thereafter. While lying bleeding on the ground, he famously gave his canister of water to another wounded soldier, saying, "Thy necessity is yet greater than mine," illustrating his noble character.

Historical Fact: Bruno lectured at Oxford, but was not awarded a teaching position there, as his views spurred controversy, notably with John Underhill, Rector of the College.

1585 - The French embassy in London is attacked, causing Bruno to return to Paris.

1586 - Bruno leaves France for Germany, having fallen out of favor with his friends and protectors over his controversial, cutting-edge views of the laws of nature.

"It is proof of a base mind and low mind for one to wish to think with the masses or majority…Truth does not change because it is, or is not, believed by a majority of the people."-Giordano Bruno

1591 - Bruno attends the first Frankfurt Book Fair, where he accepts an invitation to return to Venice, believing that the Inquisition had lost interest in him.

Historical Fact: 4 centuries later, author Paul Coelho mentioned Bruno prominently in his opening speech for the Frankfurt Book Fair in the context of the importance of sharing ideas.

Fun Fact: S.J. Parris' Heresy was the big book of the fair at Frankfurt in 2008, where it sold with much fanfare to publishers in 9 different countries within 24 hours.

1592 - Bruno is arrested on May 22 on multiple charges of blasphemy and heresy. He defends himself before the Inquisition and spends 7 years in prison.

"Perhaps you, my judges, pronounce this sentence against me with greater fear than I receive it." -Giordano Bruno

1600 - On February 17, Bruno is burned at the stake for heresy in the Campo de'fiori, a central Roman market square.

Historical Fact: At least 88 people are known to have been burned at the stake by the Roman Inquisition. Why were heretics burned? After crucifixion was banned in the fourth century, burning became the official punishment for treason in ancient Rome. It was later used by the Holy Roman Empire to punish traitors (heresy was considered to be a type of treason).

400 years later - Pope John Paul II acknowledged the church's error in condemning Bruno and attempts were made to obtain a full rehabilitation from the Catholic authorities.

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Meet the Author

S. J. Parris is the pen name of Stephanie Merritt, a contributing journalist for various newspapers and magazines, including the Observer and the Guardian.

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