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When fugitive Italian monk Giordano Bruno—philosopher, magician, and heretical scientist—arrives in London, he’s only one step ahead of the Inquisition. An undercover mission for Queen Elizabeth I and her spymaster provides added protection. Officially, Bruno is to take part in a debate on the Copernican theory of the universe at Oxford University; unofficially, he is to find out whatever he can about a Catholic plot to overthrow the queen. But when his mission is dramatically thrown off course by a series of ...

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An historic thriller set in Oxford, 1583. Within the cloistered academic and spiritual home of the most revered scholars in the world, within the private chambers of the ... university, a brutal killer lurks. Fugitive Italian monk Giordano Bruno arrives in England on the run from the Holy Roman Inquisition, charged with heresy. Recruited as a spy, he is at Oxford publicly to take part in a debate. But he is there to infiltrate the underground Catholic network and learn what he can of a conspiracy to overthrow Queen Eliz. I. While there, two Oxford fellows are murdered, and his search for the killer takes him through areas he never knew existed. Based on the real life of Giordano Bruno, written by Stephanie Merritt. Tiny red dot on the page bottoms. Read more Show Less

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When fugitive Italian monk Giordano Bruno—philosopher, magician, and heretical scientist—arrives in London, he’s only one step ahead of the Inquisition. An undercover mission for Queen Elizabeth I and her spymaster provides added protection. Officially, Bruno is to take part in a debate on the Copernican theory of the universe at Oxford University; unofficially, he is to find out whatever he can about a Catholic plot to overthrow the queen. But when his mission is dramatically thrown off course by a series of grisly deaths and the charms of a mysterious but beautiful young woman, he realizes that somewhere within Oxford’s private chambers lurks a brutal killer. . .

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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

  • ISBN-13: 9780385531283
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 2/23/2010
  • Pages: 435
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 9.20 (h) x 1.60 (d)

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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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.

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Interviews & Essays

Discovering Giordano Bruno, A Note on My Research
S.J. Parris

I first encountered the character of Giordano Bruno when I was a student at the University of Cambridge writing a thesis about the influence of occult philosophy on Renaissance literature. I was immediately captivated by his multi-faceted career (philosopher, proto-scientist, magician and poet) and the drama of his life during years of exile on the run from the Inquisition around the courts of Europe. All the accounts I read of him suggested that he was extremely charismatic, the sort of person everyone wanted at their dinner parties, and that he possessed the ability to offend and charm in equal measure - in the course of a few years he went from fugitive heretic to close friend and confidant of kings and courtiers. But he was also a man fiercely committed to his ideas, even when that meant deliberately provoking the received wisdom of the day and courting a death sentence from the Pope.

At the time I thought Bruno would make an intriguing character for a novel, but other ideas intervened and for a while I forgot about him. More than ten years later, I was reading about the Wars of Religion in the late 16th century and came across his name again in a book that suggested that Bruno had added the profession of spy to his already crowded resumé, providing intelligence to Sir Francis Walsingham, Elizabeth's spymaster, from inside the French embassy where Bruno lived during his time in England. At the time, the English court was rife with rumors of plots to assassinate Queen Elizabeth with the blessing of the Pope and the backing of Europe's two great Catholic powers, France and Spain, in order to replace her with the Catholic Mary, Queen of Scots, thus bringing England back under the influence of Rome.

I'd always been fascinated by this complex period of history, where religious and personal allegiance was in a constant state of flux and no one, including the Queen and her Council, quite knew who to trust. When I discovered the theory that Bruno had been a spy, I knew I had the material for my story. I chose to begin the series with Bruno's real-life visit to Oxford in the spring of 1583; it was on this trip that he came into contact with many of the influential figures of the court including Philip Sidney. Bruno hated his time in Oxford and wrote very unfavorably of it; I tried to fill in the gaps and imagine what might have befallen him there to make him take against the university so vehemently.

Oxford (both the University and the town) provided a perfect setting for my novel. It was a significant hub for clandestine Catholic activity during the 1580s and 1590s, and an Oxford college is a closed community, the perfect setting for the classic murder mystery. I've loved detective fiction since I was a teenager and wanted to try my hand at writing one of my own. I spent a bit of time in Oxford, and I was shown around Lincoln College by the present Rector. Fortunately the late sixteenth century left behind a rich trove of documents and records, so there are a number of very thorough biographies and histories of the period available, which made it very easy to research.

I hope you enjoy reading Heresy as much as I enjoyed researching and writing it.

Sincerely, S.J. Parris

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Reading Group Guide

1. When Giordano Bruno is recruited as a spy by Sir Francis Walsingham, he hesitates. Walsingham tells him “whenever you feel the wrench between conscience and duty, your care should always be for the greater good.” Yet Bruno’s conscience remains troubled throughout by the double life he has to lead. Does this make him a more appealing narrator? To what extent is a spy morally compromised by the fact that he must maintain a deception? Is Walsingham right—is the greater good always more important than individuals?

2. Europe in the 1580s is divided by religious wars between Catholics and Protestants. Religious loyalty is often stronger than national or family ties. Walsingham tells Bruno that “faith and politics are now one and the same.” What parallels do you see with our own times? What inspires people to become martyrs?

3. Bruno is seeking a lost book that he believes will reveal the secret of man’s divinity. He believes that with this knowledge he can formulate a philosophy that will overcome religious divisions. Why was this such a radical idea at the time? Four hundred years later, how do we regard Bruno’s optimistic dream of the end of conventional religion, with its conflicts and dogma? Does history show that some people will always turn religion to violent ends?

4. Both Walsingham and Jenkes the book dealer say they find Bruno intriguing because he contains so many contradictions and can’t be easily labeled. Did you find him intriguing/enigmatic as a character? What more would you have liked to find out about him?

5. Sophia Underhill is surprised to hear Bruno say he would appreciate a woman who could form her own opinion and express it. Why is Sophia unusual for a young woman of her time and class? Do you think her attraction to Bruno was genuine? Did your feelings about her change when her secret was revealed?

6. After the first murder, Bruno is sent an anonymous letter that appears to offer a clue about the killing. Who did you first think might have sent it? What was the purpose of the letter? Why did the sender want Bruno involved?

7. Many of the book’s central characters are real historical figures. Why do you think the author chose to use real characters? Does it affect the way you read the novel to know that some of the events really happened? Would it make you want to read more about that period or the people involved?

8. Queen Elizabeth I famously said she had “no desire to make windows into men’s souls”. At the end of the book, Bruno is confronted by a character who says that tolerance in matters of belief is equal to saying there is no truth or untruth, right or wrong. Who is right? Does passionate belief in any cause rule out tolerance of other views? Where do we see this most keenly in our own age?

9. A great deal of the story revolves around lost or forbidden books. Why were books considered so powerful at the time? What other stories have you read where a lost or secret book was at the heart of a mystery? Why does the idea of a forgotten or banned book have such a hold on the imagination?

10. Were you surprised to discover the identity of the killer? Who had you suspected? At the very end, Bruno remains ambivalent about whether justice has been done —do you agree?

(For a complete list of available reading group guides, and to sign up for the Reading Group Center enewsletter, visit:

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 97 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 98 Customer Reviews
  • 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

    more from this reviewer


    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

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    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


    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


    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


    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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    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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    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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