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A Burnable Book [Hardcover]

Bruce Holsinger
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (37 customer reviews)
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Book Description

30 Jan 2014

A stunning debut historical thriller set in the turbulent 14th century, for fans of CJ Sansom, The Name of the Rose and An Instance of the Fingerpost.

London, 1385. A city of shadows and fear, in a kingdom ruled by the headstrong young King Richard II, haunted by the spectre of revolt. A place of poetry and prophecy, where power is bought by blood.

For John Gower, part-time poet and full-time trader in information, secrets are his currency. When close confidant, fellow poet Geoffrey Chaucer, calls in an old debt, Gower cannot refuse.

The request is simple: track down a missing book. It should be easy for a man of Gower’s talents, who knows the back-alleys of Southwark as intimately as the courts and palaces of Westminster.

But what Gower does not know is that this book has already caused one murder, and that its contents could destroy his life.

Because its words are behind the highest treason – a conspiracy to kill the king and reduce his reign to ashes…

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 496 pages
  • Publisher: HarperCollins (30 Jan 2014)
  • Language: Unknown
  • ISBN-10: 0007493304
  • ISBN-13: 978-0007493302
  • Product Dimensions: 23.6 x 16 x 4.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (37 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 27,486 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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‘This is a rich novel…Bruce Holsinger is a leading American scholar of the Middle Ages and his debut novel combines detailed knowledge of the period with an undoubted gift for gripping storytelling’ BBC History magazine

‘This book has almost everything you could want in a historical fiction – rich in period detail and driven by a compulsively engaging and tangled story…The characters are well drawn, the social mores related in unapologetic detail and his multi-layered plot shows a superb storytelling fluency comparable with C.J. Sansom and Nancy Bilyeux.’ Crime Review

‘An enjoyable story of murder and intrigue in 14th-century London’ The Sunday Times

‘Holsinger carries the reader to Oxford, Italy and Spain, but the highlight is his description of medieval London with its murky, poverty-stricken streets…enjoyable and intelligent’ The Daily Mail

‘His profound knowledge of the 14th century provides a wonderfully convincing back-drop… his London feels like a real place, from St Paul’s churchyard to Southwark’s Gropecunt Lane. Comparisons with C.J. Sansom are inevitable, and justified’ Andrew Taylor, The Spectator

‘John Gower is the perfect narrator and amateur sleuth …Holsinger's research, alongside the energetic vulgarity of a language in flux, delivers up a world where even the filth is colorful’ New York Times Book Review

‘A murder, a verse and a whore; the prologue of Bruce Holsinger`s A BURNABLE BOOK draws the reader in and does not let go. A deep understanding of the period combines with sophisticated writing to create a richly imagined world. Excellent historical fiction’ Harry Sidebottom, bestselling author of the WARRIOR OF ROME series

‘A lush bibliomaniac thriller… Holsinger is a graceful guide to the 14th century, lacing his thriller with just the right seasoning of antique words and all the necessary historical detail without any of the fusty smell of a documentary’ Ron Charles Washington Post

About the Author

Bruce W. Holsinger is a prolific and award-winning scholar of the Middle Ages who teaches at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. His books on medieval culture have won numerous prizes from the Modern Language Association, the Medieval Academy of America, and other scholarly organizations, and he is the co-author of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Movies, Flicks, and Film. He is a Guggenheim Fellow and a recipient of research fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the American Council of Learned Societies. A Burnable Book is his first novel.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Vivid and gripping, a 14th century thriller 31 Jan 2014
By Bookie TOP 500 REVIEWER
London 1385. A missing book filled with dark prophecy. A monarchy under threat. Murder, conspiracy and treason. A debut tour de force which will keep you hooked from the first page. Chaucer's London is brought vividly to life in this tale of conspiracy, treason, sedition, treachery, secrets and much more. It's epic in scope with a huge cast of characters and is a powerful debut novel by Bruce Holsinger..

I was immediately immersed in the sights, sounds and smells of the medieval capital. There's a strong sense of both place and time captured by detail and use of dialogue with the language and nuance of the time. There's a sense of atmosphere and intrigue which is all pervading. The anxieties and uncertainty around a monarchy headed by a new young king are laid bare by the intricacy of the plot.

Chaucer tasks Gower, whose speciality is trading in secrets, with finding a mysterious book filled with prophecy that threatens the monarchy. Whispers, suspicion, murder and more start the story at a gallop. This search for the book is the central thread which weaves together an impressive cast of characters; from monarchs and courtiers to paupers and prostitutes. Each is carefully crafted with a part to play in a clever, complex and well controlled plot. The pace allows various sub plots to develop along with dead ends and red herrings. The strength of this compelling read is the richness of factual detail. It's a real slice of social history where authentic period details are woven into the story. Whether it's poetry or brothels, bookbinding or code breaking or the politics of the power behind the throne and the dread of prophecy and prediction, it's all there to savour. Engaging and exciting, I loved every page of this and look forward to more.

I received a publisher's advance review copy from lovereading.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Strong Debut 30 Jan 2014
Bruce Holsinger's fiction debut, A Burnable Book, is the first in a proposed series of historical thrillers set in 14th century London. This is Chaucer's London, it is 1385, a time of flux especially for the young king, Richard II, whose life may be in danger before he gets the opportunity to rule independently. Rumour has it there is "a burnable book", a treasonous tract the contents of which could overthrow the monarchy and threaten the stability of the whole country.

Enter John Gower, part-time poet and friend of Geoffrey Chaucer who has requested Gower's help in tracking down this dangerous tome. What follows is a well paced but complex story with many twists and turns. Equally complex is the vast range of characters, both real-life and fictional, and I was grateful for the list of characters at the front of the novel in order to frequently remind myself who was who. Holsinger is well respected in the area of medieval research, as attested by his back catalogue of 6 non-fiction works in this field. Such expertise is evident in the ease with which he brings alive the sights, sounds and smells of medieval London.

This is an accomplished debut novel reminiscent of the sprawling narratives of Ken Follett and C J Sansom. It is slightly too detailed and convoluted for my liking but I think that Bruce Holsinger's first foray into fiction will win him lots of new fans.
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4.0 out of 5 stars just another historical novel? 17 April 2014
By gadget girl VINE VOICE
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
well yes and no. yes its historical and no because this is a book worth buying . it is a colorful read and depicts London when it was a lot more smelly and dirty than it is now. its a book which creates the atmosphere of the place and time really well and the tale it tells captures your imagination as the characters draw you in . i enjoyed this from beggining to end
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3.0 out of 5 stars Not an easy read 3 April 2014
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This book, though an interesting story, was written by an academic, and it shows in the writing. It is not an ' easy read'.
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5.0 out of 5 stars An exciting tale of medieval intrigue 20 Mar 2014
By Amazon Customer VINE VOICE
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
This impressive debut novel is set in London in 1385 and the hero, Gower, is a compelling character. Holsinger's real achievement, though, is his vividly portrayed medieval world. This is a London of back streets, grime and genuine intrigue, rather than the sanitised royal courts which feature so heavily in many lesser historical thrillers.

I was pleasantly surprised by this book. The quality of historical fiction varies widely, and I was happy to find that this book is one of the better ones (perhaps even one of the best). Comparisons to C. J. Sansom are inevitable for any author of historical thrillers based in England: this book is superior to Sansom's generally over-rated work.

Highly recommended. I look forward to more fiction from this author.
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Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
Holsinger has created an intriguing mystery set around a prophetic book that is claimed has the details of the deaths of kings including the present King Richard II. The book atmospherically leads us on journeys into the slums with the 'maudlyns' in Rose Alley, religious orders and places of power as we try to puzzle out: who stole the book, who wrote the book and why so many people are wanting to get hold of it?
The story switches around focussing on diverse characters - John Gower, friend of Chaucer and fellow poet; and maudlyn/cross dresser Edgar/Eleanor - plus there is a story threaded through about a young girl with a traumatic memory in her past and powerful connections. It all builds up to an exciting conclusion but then we seem to have a few conclusions to the story where it gets a little messy. Overall a well written, engaging story with a few frustrating elements at the end but I would certainly consider picking up another in the series even if it doesn't hit the highs of the Sansom's Shardlake series.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Read Before Burning!
A few writers are beginning to move into what I shall call C.J. Sansom territory - by which I mean hisotorical thrillers - and Bruce Holsinger is just one of the newer ones to... Read more
Published 1 month ago by G. J. Oxley
4.0 out of 5 stars Quite good
I quite liked this. If possible I would rate it at three and a half stars.

The author is an actual expert on the subject so this book avoids many of the anachronisms... Read more
Published 1 month ago by The Emperor
5.0 out of 5 stars Fabulous, immersive experience
What a super book this is! From the first page, you are wrapped in Chaucerian London, with all its steamy goings-on... Read more
Published 1 month ago by Nicola Moxey
5.0 out of 5 stars Treachery, heresy, and...
A "burnable book", as referred to in the title of Bruce Holsinger's new novel of England (and Florence) in the late 14th century, is simply a book that might cost the... Read more
Published 1 month ago by Jill Meyer
4.0 out of 5 stars if you're a fan of CJ....
You'll like this. Although not as carefully developed as Samson's work it is rich in period detail and intrigue. Read more
Published 1 month ago by TeamScoop
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the very best historical novels ever written
This looked interesting, and was a period of history I knew less about. The author was unknown to me, so I wasn't quite sure what to expect, plus Bruce Holsinger is a scholar of... Read more
Published 2 months ago by Herbie Green
5.0 out of 5 stars Murder, mystery, treason, and a search against time
The murder of a girl outside the city walls, a snatch of verse and a book – thus begins “A Burnable Book”. Read more
Published 2 months ago by KAY HALL
5.0 out of 5 stars Intrigue and Counter Intrigue
This is set in 14th Century England during the reign of Richard 11. It's a turbulent time. The king has already faced revolt and is understandably concerned that there is more to... Read more
Published 2 months ago by Brett H
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent addition to the growing historical fiction list
This was a slow "burner" for me (pun intended) as I took a little while to get into the many characters involved and the author's style. Read more
Published 2 months ago by uncle barbar
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