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…  See more details below


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 grisly murders and a spirited and beautiful young woman. As Bruno begins to discover a pattern in these killings, he realizes that no one at Oxford is who he seems to be. Bruno must attempt to outwit a killer who appears obsessed with the boundary between truth and heresy.

Like The Dante Club and The Alienist, this clever, sophisticated, exceptionally enjoyable novel is written with the unstoppable narrative propulsion and stylistic flair of the very best historical thrillers.

From the Hardcover edition.

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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

“HERESY is a must-read for every fan of historical thrillers. S. J. Parris transports the reader back to an extraordinary time in history by mobilizing fascinating details, suspense, and fully drawn characters. Giordano Bruno turns out to be that rare hero, charismatic and nuanced enough to impel an encore, and to leave us asking for more from the gifted Parris.”
Matthew Pearl, New York Times bestselling author of The Poe Shadow and The Dante Club

"HERESY has everything - intrigue, mystery, excellent history and haunting sense of place.  The beginning of a wonderful new detective series."
— Kate Mosse, New York Times bestselling author of Labyrinth and Sepulchre

“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

"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

“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 and Bones of the Hills

“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 and Amagansett
“Parris 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.”
Starred PW
“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 Washington Post

If proliferation is a sign of health, then the most vigorous member of the historical novel species must surely be the religious thriller. We know what to expect of these ecclesiastical romps: Sadistic clerics, heroic visionaries, ancient texts, torture chambers and a sprinkling of Latin are guaranteed whether the turmoil being depicted is the Protestant Reformation, the Roman Inquisition or some obscure schism.

The latest example of this thriving subgenre is "Heresy," by S.J. Parris (the pseudonym of British writer Stephanie Merritt), a vigorous philosophical thriller that wastes no time getting to the point. "They have sent for the Father Inquisitor," a desperate monk whispers to his cellmate. "There is no time to lose." Along with this rallying cry — the first of many — we can practically hear the galloping of hooves and the creaking of thumbscrews.

The monk in question is Giordano Bruno, the 16th-century Neapolitan philosopher who was finally burned at the stake for his belief in an infinite, Copernican universe. (The actual Bruno was a Dominican friar. "Heresy" ends well before his execution, although a planned sequel may take us there.) We meet our hero in 1576, in the monastery's latrine, where he has retreated to read Erasmus's forbidden "Commentaries." Discovered by his superiors, he is soon on the run, making first for "the lion's maw" of Rome. "I was not afraid to die for my beliefs," he asserts, "but not until I had determined which beliefs were worth dying for."

The philosopher's subsequent adventures in Italy and France are revealed throughout the novel as intermittent recollections, but the main plot, which takes place in 1583, is planted firmly on English ground. There the young visionary accepts a more earthly mission. At the behest of Sir Francis Walsingham, Queen Elizabeth's spymaster, Bruno reluctantly agrees to use his time at Oxford University — where he has been invited to debate the rector — to investigate a suspected papist conspiracy against the Protestant crown.

"No man in Oxford is what he seems," one scholar declares. Nor is Bruno, of course. We soon learn that he is in Oxford not primarily to win a philosophical debate or to expose papists but to find "the lost book of the Egyptian high priest Hermes Trismegistus." This book, the 15th volume of a fabled Hermetic treatise, reportedly contains "the lost wisdom of the Egyptians, a secret that could destroy the authority of the Christian church" by revealing "the secret of knowing the Divine Mind."

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. First the college sub-rector is killed by a half-starved wolfhound, unleashed by an unseen hand. Then, as subsequent murders terrorize the college, the rector asks Bruno to investigate, a task that complicates not only his earlier mission but also his involvement with the rector's beautiful and intellectually rebellious daughter.

The fact that each gruesome murder is apparently inspired by the executions depicted in John Foxe's "Actes and Monuments," a chronicle of Protestant martyrdom, hints at a papist killer. Or is this merely a ruse? Cryptic clues accumulate as Bruno is drawn into an underground world of hooded priests, secret Masses and outlaw romance.
The final showdown, like many other dramatic moments in the novel, recalls similar scenes in countless adventure novels; and Parris's dialogue — courtly one moment and modern the next — often seems unmoored from the novel's era.

Nevertheless, Bruno commands our attention and our sympathy as any likable heretic should. "I hate no-one," he declares as his own death seems imminent, "I want only to be left in peace to understand the mysteries of the universe in my own way." To which the murderer sneeringly replies, "Ah. Tolerance." By this stage, the plot has — perhaps belatedly — broken out of claustrophobic Oxford and made for the countryside, where the long-anticipated galloping hooves finally arrive. 

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P r o l o g u e

Monastery of San Domenico Maggiore, Naples

The outer door was thrown open with a crash that resounded along the passage, and the floorboards shook with the purposeful marching of several pairs of feet. Inside the small cubicle where I perched on the edge of a wooden bench, taking care not to sit too close to the hole that opened over the cesspit beneath, my little candle flickered in the sudden draught of their entrance, sending wavering shadows growing and shrinking along the stone walls. Allora, I thought, looking up. They have come for me at last.

The footsteps halted outside the cubicle door, to be replaced by the furious hammering of a fist and the abbot’s throaty voice, strained beyond its usual placid tones of diplomacy.

“Fra Giordano! I order you to come out this instant, with whatever you hold in your hands in plain sight!”

I caught a snigger from one of the monks who accompanied him, swiftly followed by a stern tutting from the abbot, Fra Domenico Vita, and could not help smiling to myself, in spite of the moment. Fra Vita was a man who, in the ordinary course of events, gave the impression that all bodily functions offended him mightily; it would be causing him unprecedented distress to have to apprehend one of his monks in so ignominious a place as this.

“One moment, Padre, if I may,” I called, untying my habit to make it look as if I had been using the privy for its proper purpose. I looked at the book in my hand. For a moment I entertained the idea of hiding it somewhere under my habit, but that would be fruitless—I would be searched straightaway.

“Not one moment more, Brother,” Fra Vita said through the door, a quiet menace creeping into his voice. “You have spent more than two hours in the privy tonight, I think that is long enough.”

“Something I ate, Padre,” I said, and with deep regret, I threw the book into the hole, producing a noisy coughing fit to cover the splash it made as it fell into the pool of waste below. It had been such a fine edition, too. I unlatched the door and opened it to see my abbot standing there, his heavy features almost vibrating with pent- up rage, all the more vivid in the gusting light of the torches carried by the four monks who stood behind him, staring at me, appalled and fascinated.

“Do not move, Fra Giordano,” Vita said tightly, jabbing a warning finger in my face. “It is too late for hiding.”

He strode into the cubicle, his nose wrinkled against the stench, holding up his lamp to check each of the corners in turn. Finding nothing, he turned to the men behind him.

“Search him,” he barked.

My brothers looked at one another in consternation, then that wily Tuscan friar, Fra Agostino da Montalcino, stepped forward, an unpleasant smile on his face. He had never liked me, but his dislike had turned to open animosity after I publicly bested him in an argument about the Arian heresy some months earlier, after which he had gone about whispering that I denied the divinity of Christ. Without a doubt, it was he who had put Fra Vita on my trail.

“Excuse me, Fra Giordano,” he mouthed with a sneer, before he began patting me up and down, his hands roaming first around my waist and down each of my thighs.

“Try not to enjoy yourself too much,” I muttered.

“Just obeying my superior,” he replied. When he had finished groping, he rose to face Fra Vita, clearly disappointed. “He has nothing concealed in his habit, Father.”

Fra Vita stepped closer and glared at me for some moments without speaking, his face so near to mine that I could count the bristles on his nose and smell the rank onions on his breath.

“The sin of our first father was the desire for forbidden knowledge.” He enunciated each word carefully, running his tongue wetly over his lips. “He thought he could become like God. And this is your sin also, Fra Giordano Bruno. You are one of the most gifted young men I have encountered in all my years at San Domenico Maggiore, but your curiosity and your pride in your own cleverness prevent you from using your gifts to the glory of the Church. It is time the Father Inquisitor took the measure of you.” “No, Padre, please—I have done nothing—” I protested as he turned to leave, but just then Montalcino called out from behind me.

“Fra Vita! Here is something you should see!”

He was shining his torch into the hole of the privy, an expression of malevolent delight spreading over his thin face.

Vita blanched, but leaned in to see what the Tuscan had uncovered. Apparently satisfied, he turned to me.

“Fra Giordano—return to your cell and do not leave until I send you further instructions. This requires the immediate attention of the Father Inquisitor. Fra Montalcino—retrieve that book. We will know what heresies and necromancy our brother studies in here with a devotion I have never seen him apply to the Holy Scriptures.”

Montalcino looked from the abbot to me in horror. I had been in the privy for so long I had grown used to the stink, but the idea of plunging my hand into the pool beneath the plank made my stomach rise. I beamed at Montalcino.

“I, my lord abbot?” he asked, his voice rising.

“You, Brother—and be quick about it.” Fra Vita pulled his cloak closer around him against the chill night air.

“I can save you the trouble,” I said. “It is only Erasmus’s Commentaries— no dark magic in there.”

“The works of Erasmus are on the Inquisition’s Index of Forbidden Books, as you well know, Brother Giordano,” Vita said grimly. He fixed me again with those emotionless eyes. “But we will see for ourselves. You have played us for fools too long. It is time the purity of your faith was tested. Fra Battista!” he called to another of the monks bearing torches, who leaned in attentively. “Send word for the Father Inquisitor.”

I could have dropped to my knees then and pleaded for clemency, but there would have been no dignity in begging, and Fra Vita was a man who liked the order of due process. If he had determined I should face the Father Inquisitor, perhaps as an example to my brethren, then he would not be swayed from that course until it had been played out in full—and I feared I knew what that meant. I pulled my cowl over my head and followed the abbot and his attendants out, pausing only to cast a last glance at Montalcino as he rolled up the sleeve of his habit and prepared to fish for my lost Erasmus.

“On the bright side, Brother, you are fortunate,” I said, with a parting wink. “My shit really does smell sweeter than everyone else’s.” He looked up, his mouth twisted with either bitterness or disgust. “See if your wit survives when you have a burning poker in your arsehole, Bruno,” he said, with a marked lack of Christian charity. Outside in the cloister, the night air of Naples was crisp and I watched my breath cloud around me, grateful to be out of the confines of the privy.

On all sides the vast stone walls of the monastic buildings rose around me, the cloister swallowed up in their shadows. The great façade of the basilica loomed to my left as I walked with leaden steps toward the monks’ dormitory, and I craned my head upward to see the stars scattered above it. The Church taught, after Aristotle, that the stars were fixed in the eighth sphere beyond the earth, that they were all equidistant and moved together in orbit about the earth, like the sun and the seven planets in their respective spheres. Then there were those, like the Pole Copernicus, who dared to imagine the universe in a different form, with the sun at its centre and an earth that moved on its own orbit. Beyond this, no one had ventured, not even in imagination—no one but me, Giordano Bruno the Nolan, and this secret theory, bolder than anyone had yet dared to formulate, was known to me alone: that the universe had no fixed centre but was infinite, and each of those stars I now watched pulsating in the velvet blackness above me was its own sun, surrounded by its own innumerable worlds, on which, even now, beings just like me might also be watching the heavens, wondering if anything existed beyond the limits of their knowledge.

One day I would write all this in a book that would be my life’s work, a book that would send such ripples through Christendom, as Copernicus’s De revolutionibus orbium coelestium had done, but greater still, a book that would undo all the certainties not only of the Roman church but of the whole Christian religion. But there was still so much more that I needed to understand, too many books I had yet to read, books of astrology and ancient magic, all of which were forbidden by the Dominican order and which I could never obtain from the library at San Domenico Maggiore. I knew that if I were to stand before the Holy Roman Inquisition now, all of this would be pricked out of me with white- hot irons, with the rack or the wheel, until I vomited my hypothesis out half cooked, whereupon they would burn me for heresy. I was twenty- eight years old; I did not want to die just yet. I had no choice but to run.

It was just after compline; the monks of San Domenico were preparing to retire for the night. Bursting into the cell I shared with Fra Paolo of Rimini, trailing the cold of the night on my hair and habit, I rushed frantically about the tiny room, gathering what few belongings I had into an oilskin bag. Paolo had been lying in contemplation on his straw pallet when I flung the door open; now he propped himself up on one elbow, watching my frenzy with concern. He and I had joined the monastery together as novices at the age of fifteen; now, thirteen years later, he was the only one I thought of as a brother in the true sense.

“They have sent for the Father Inquisitor,” I explained, catching my breath. “There is no time to lose.”

“You missed compline again. I told you, Bruno,” Paolo said, shaking his head. “If you spend so many hours in the privy every night, people will grow suspicious. Fra Tomasso has been telling everyone you have some grievous disease of the bowel—I said it would not take long for Montalcino to deduce your true business and alert the abbot.”

“It was only Erasmus, for Christ’s sake,” I said, irritated. “I must leave tonight, Paolo, before I am questioned. Have you seen my winter cloak?” Paolo’s face was suddenly grave.

“Bruno, you know a Dominican may not abandon his order, on pain of excommunication. If you run away, they will take it as a confession, they will put out a warrant for you. You will be condemned as a heretic.” “And if I stay I will be condemned as a heretic,” I said. “It will hurt less in absentia.”

“But where will you go? How will you live?” My friend looked pained; I stopped my searching and laid my hand on his shoulder. “I will travel at night, I will sing and dance or beg for bread if I have to, and when I have put enough distance between myself and Naples, I will teach for a living. I took my doctor of theology last year—there are plenty of universities in Italy.” I tried to sound cheerful, but in truth my heart was pounding and my bowels were turning to water; it was somewhat ironic that I could not now go near the privy.

“You will never be safe in Italy if the Inquisition name you as a heretic,” Paolo said sadly. “They will not rest until they see you burned.” “Then I must get out before they have the chance. Perhaps I will go to France.”

I turned away to look for my cloak. There flashed into my memory, as clear as the day it was first imprinted, the image of a man consumed by fire, his head twisted back in agony as he tried in vain to turn his face from the heat of the flames that tore hungrily at his clothes. It was that human, fruitless gesture that stayed with me in the years afterward—that movement to protect his face from the fire, though his head was bound to a stake—and since then I had deliberately avoided the spectacle of another burning. I had been twelve years old, and my father, a professional soldier and a man of orthodox and sincere belief, had taken me to Rome to watch a public execution for my edification and instruction. We had secured a good vantage point for ourselves in the Campo dei Fiori toward the back of the jostling crowd, and I had been amazed at how many had gathered to make profit from the event as if it were a bearbaiting or a fair: sellers of pamphlets, mendicant friars, men and women peddling bread and cakes or fried fish from trays around their necks. Neither had I expected the cruelty of the crowd, who mocked the prisoner with insults, spitting and throwing stones at him as he was led silently to the stake, his head bowed. I wondered if his silence were defeat or dignity, but my father explained that he had an iron spike driven through his tongue so that he could not try to convert the spectators by repeating his foul heresies from the pyre.

He was tied to the stake and the faggots piled around him so that he was almost hidden from view. When a torch was held to the wood, there was an almighty crackling and the kindling caught light immediately and burned with a fierce glow. My father had nodded in approval; sometimes, he explained, if the authorities feel merciful, they allow green wood to be used for the pyre, so that the prisoner will often suffocate from the smoke before he truly suffers the sting of the flames. But for the worst kind of heretics — witches, sorcerers, blasphemers, Lutherans, the Benandanti — they would be sure the wood was as dry as the slopes of Monte Cicala in summer, so that the heat of the flames would tear at the offender until he screamed out to God with his last breath in true repentance.

I wanted to look away as the flames rushed to devour the man’s face, but my father was planted solidly beside me, his gaze unflinching, as if watching the poor wretch’s agonies were an essential part of his own duty to God, and I did not want to appear less manly or less devout than he. I heard the mangled shrieks that escaped the condemned man’s torn mouth as his eyeballs popped, I heard the hiss and crackle as his skin shrivelled and peeled away and the bloody pulp beneath melted into the flames, I smelled the charred flesh that reminded me horribly of the boar that was always roasted over a pit at street festivals in Nola. Indeed, the cheering and exultation of the crowd when the heretic finally expired was like nothing so much as a saint’s day or public holiday. On the way home I asked my father why the man had had to die so horribly. Had he killed someone, I wondered? My father told me that he had been a heretic. When I pressed him to explain what a heretic was, he said the man had defied the authority of the pope by denying the existence of Purgatory. So I learned that, in Italy, words and ideas are considered as dangerous as swords and arrows, and that a philosopher or a scientist needs as much courage as a soldier to speak his mind.

Somewhere in the dormitory building I heard a door slam violently.

“They are coming,” I whispered frantically to Paolo. “Where the devil is my cloak?”

“Here.” He handed me his own, pausing a moment to tuck it around my shoulders. “And take this.” He pressed into my hand a small bone- handled dagger in a leather sheath. I looked at him in surprise. “It was a gift from my father,” he whispered. “You will have more need of it than I, where you are going. And now, sbrigati. Hurry.”

The narrow window of our cell was just large enough for me to squeeze myself onto the ledge, one leg at a time. We were on the first floor of the building, but about six feet below the window the sloping roof of the lay brothers’ reredorter jutted out enough for me to land on it if I judged the fall carefully; from there I could edge my way down a buttress and, assuming I could make it across the garden without being seen, climb the outside wall of the monastery and disappear into the streets of Naples under cover of darkness.

I tucked the dagger inside my habit, slung my oilskin pack over one shoulder, and climbed to the ledge, pausing astride the windowsill to look out. A gibbous moon hung, pale and swollen, over the city, smoky trails of cloud drifting across its face. Outside there was only silence. For a moment I felt suspended between two lives. I had been a monk for thirteen years; when I lifted my left leg through the window and dropped to the roof below, I would be turning my back on that life for good. Paolo was right; I would be excommunicated for leaving my order, whatever other charges were levelled at me. He looked up at me, his face full of wordless grief, and reached for my hand. I leaned down to kiss his knuckles when I heard again the emphatic stride of many feet thundering down the passageway outside.

“Dio sia con te,” Paolo whispered, as I pulled myself through the small window and twisted my body around so that I was hanging by my fingertips, tearing my habit as I did so. Then, trusting to God and chance, I let go. As I landed clumsily on the roof below, I heard the sound of the little casement closing and hoped Paolo had been in time.

The moonlight was a blessing and a curse; I kept close to the shadows of the wall as I crossed the garden behind the monks’ quarters and, with the help of wild vines, I managed to pull myself over the far wall, the boundary of the monastery, where I dropped to the ground and rolled down a short slope to the road. Immediately I had to throw myself into the shadow of a doorway, trusting to the darkness to cover me, because a rider on a black horse was galloping urgently up the narrow street in the direction of the monastery, his cloak undulating behind him. It was only when I lifted my head, feeling the blood pounding in my throat, and recognised the round brim of his hat as he disappeared up the hill toward the main gate, that I knew the figure who had passed was the local Father Inquisitor, summoned in my honour.

That night I slept in a ditch on the outskirts of Naples when I could walk no farther, Paolo’s cloak a poor defence against the frosty night. On the second day, I earned a bed for the night and half a loaf of bread by working in the stables of a roadside inn; that night, a man attacked me while I slept and I woke with cracked ribs, a bloody nose, and no bread, but at least he had used his fists and not a knife, as I soon learned was common among the vagrants and travellers who frequented the inns and taverns on the road to Rome. By the third day, I was learning to be vigilant, and I was more than halfway to Rome. Already I missed the familiar routines of monastic life that had governed my days for so long, and already I was thrilled by the notion of freedom. I no longer had any master except my own imagination. In Rome I would be walking into the lion’s maw, but I liked the boldness of the wager with Providence; either my life would begin again as a free man, or the Inquisition would track me down and feed me to the flames. But I would do everything in my power to ensure it was not the latter—I was not afraid to die for my beliefs, but not until I had determined which beliefs were worth dying for.

From the Trade Paperback edition.

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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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