My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Heresy is a historical novel that follows a period in the life of Giordano Bruno, an ex-monk who has developed a reputation as a philosopher and gained status through his relationship with King Henri III of France. This book covers a time he spent at Oxford in England. He's been brought to the university to debate with the head of the school, Rector Underhill. But while Bruno is at Oxford a number of brutal murders occur and he is recruited by Underhill to look into the crimes.
The book is interesting because it covers the period in English history after the Church of England separated from the Roman Catholic Church, but does not look at that time through the point of view of the monarchy. Instead it focuses on how the conflict between the two churches affects the students and faculty at Oxford. There's violence, deception, and quite a few compromised values.
The problem with putting historical characters in a fictional environment is that the author has to develop personalities for the characters while remaining true to the real people. In this case, the characters suffer because they lack strong emotions. Everyone in the book, with the exception of Bruno and his well-connected friend, Philip Sydney, seems to be one dimensional and self-serving. This was a time when people believed that choosing the wrong side would be the same as denying God. Yet there was little passion shown in their choices. The rector has a beautiful daughter named Sophia whom everyone wants to protect, but the only romantic relationship is talked about rather than shown and also lacks passion.
The decisions the characters make often seem abrupt and without rationalization. There's a gate keeper who helps Bruno without any explanation as to why he's decided to trust a stranger over the people he knows and works for. And Rector Underhill's decision to ask Bruno to investigate the crimes also seems out of the blue.
Yet, despite the issues I mentioned, I enjoyed the novel. The subject matter is fascinating and the mystery works well. It's a good read for people who enjoy historical fiction.
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