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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


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...

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

Product Details

Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.20(w) x 9.20(h) x 1.60(d)

Read an Excerpt


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.

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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Heresy 3.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 97 reviews.
TheCrowdedLeaf More than 1 year ago
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.
BookAddictFL More than 1 year ago
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.
Amaranthae More than 1 year ago
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.
JGolomb More than 1 year ago
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.
kuhlcat More than 1 year ago
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.
harstan More than 1 year ago
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
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