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Book Review: Prophecy by SJ Parris

The second book in the Giordano Bruno series is set in 1583 and finds the Italian heretic and former monk, Bruno, ensconced in the French Prophecy (Giordano Bruno, #2)Ambassador’s residence in London, where plots against Queen Elizabeth’s throne fly thick and fast. Still working for the spymaster and queen’s secretary, Sir Francis Walsingham, Bruno keeps his ear to the ground, discovering unlawful correspondence and Catholic conspirators everywhere he turns… Or are they? Told to rely on another of Walsingham’s men, Fowler, for help, Bruno finds himself reluctant to share information. On the one hand, he is uncertain just who is inciting treason and who isn’t and wants to be sure before he accuses, on the other, he wants to deliver the culprit to justice himself. At the same time, celestial events are attracting a great deal of attention and Bruno is drawn into Her Majesty’s conjurer, Dr John Dee’s, strange practices, and the notion that a prophecy that predicts the downfall of the queen draws nigh.

As the book opens, however, Bruno’s position as both spy for Walsingham and member of the Ambassador’s household, becomes even more complicated when a young woman and one of the queen’s ladies is found ritualistically murdered in the palace. The way her body has been displayed indicates not only occult involvement, but also connections to the French Ambassador’s home and Dee’s predictions. As the body count grows and the signs point more overtly towards the French and the fulfillment of a prophecy, Bruno knows he has to act. But just as Bruno watches those who he suspects of terrible intentions, there are those who watch him and will stop at nothing to make sure their plans succeed.

Parris has really done her homework here, using known events and a documented conspiracy as a backdrop for this exciting, fast-paced novel. Just as Bruno is a real historical figure, so too are most of the characters, the plots and the correspondence that’s used in the tale. That a mole working for Walsingham dwelled in the French Ambassador’s residence throughout this period is also known. Going by the name Henry Fagot, he did indeed alert Walsingham and thus Cecil to the dire goings on and plans between the French, Scots and even the Spaniards, providing invaluable information. While Fagot’s real identity is unknown, Parris clearly inserts Bruno in this role (and some historians believe it could well have been him) and it works wonderfully well.

The French Ambassador had a reputation as a fine host whose table not only provided delicious food but also scintillating conversation, something Bruno particularly was expected to provide. It’s no surprise then that Parris dedicates quite a bit of the story to table conversations, recreating the dangerous and witty repartee with flair, as well as the religious schisms, strange beliefs and fears and cunning of desperate men and women. Not only that, Parris breathes life, ghostly, smelly, exciting, deadly, into Elizabethan London, making it is as much a character in the novel as Bruno.

A highly superstitious era that both loved and feared all things prophecy and magic (both were illegal as well), Parris weaves the precarious position of Dr Dee and the gruesome murders into her tale to create a tense and forbidding atmosphere where shadows, double-speak, ciphers, codes and mists rule. Nothing and no one is as they seem and it’s against this backdrop that Bruno must solve the murders and uncover the truth of the plots against the crown.

A terrific novel that any lover of mysteries, crime, and historical fiction will appreciate.

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