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4.1 out of 5 stars
Heresy
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
First Sentence: 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.

Philosopher and mathematician Giordano Bruno has come to Oxford, supposedly to debate on the theories of Copernicus. However, Sir Francis Walsingham, spymaster to Queen Elizabeth I, has sent him to seek out Catholics who seek to assassinate the Queen. He did not expect having to solve a series of murders where the victim has been styled to represent a Catholic martyr.

For some reason, I had in my mind that this book would be slow and the plot would drag. Oh, was I wrong. From the opening paragraph, I was involved and wanted to know more.

Parris writes with wonderful detail; I repeatedly thought that as I read. It was not that the detail distracted me, but it made the story richer. The sense of place detail is often thought of in broad, terms; here it was the small details of a room--I particularly loved the description of the bookbinder's room--or setting; such as an almanac that contained both the prevalent calendar and the new Georgian calendar mandated by the Church for use in Catholic states, and of people. Then there was the historical detail. This was a time of great turmoil between Rome and Protestant England, where the books you read and/or the people with whom you associated could lead to expulsion from England or death. There are some very insightful statements made about religion and the divisions and hatred it can cause and the effect its power and instillation of fear has on people..."the way it makes men believe they alone are right."

The protagonist, Giordano Bruno, was a real, historical figure. Normally, I am strongly opposed against using either actual figures or iconic fictional characters created by others, as protagonists. I must confess, I was not familiar with Bruno so, in this case, it didn't matter to me. However, in doing research on Bruno and in spite of there being references to actual events, the character still felt fictional; a good thing in this instance and he absolutely held his own in the story. The other most interesting character to me was Sophia Underhill, daughter of the rector. She was smart, gutsy and privileged beyond what was normal for women of the time, yet still subject to the prejudices and constraints of the time. She was very well written.

Fortunately, the author did not attempt to write the dialogue in the vernacular of the period. Even though there may have been anachronisms, I did not notice any. I was too busy reading.

Finally, we come to the plot and the overall quality of writing. The former I enjoyed. The story moved right along, there were no significant slow spots; it was certainly suspenseful and gripping. The quality of writing, however, suffered a bit. There were portents and way too many large coincidences, almost to the point where I started counting them.

I very much enjoyed "Heresy," but don't know that I would read another book in the series.

HERESY (Hist Mys-Giordano Bruno-England-1583/Elizabethan) - G+
Parris, S.J. - 1st in series
Doubleday, ©2010, US Hardcover - ISBN: 9780385531283
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79 of 83 people found the following review helpful
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Initially I thought of this book as "'The Name of the Rose' meets 'Elizabeth'", as it combines religious themes into a murder mystery set in Elizabethan England, but on reflection that's not quite correct. This is "'Elizabeth' meets 'Inspector Morse'".

Not only are the victims a series of Oxford University academics, who meet progressively stickier ends, but the central character is a lonely polymath with an ambivalent attitude to authority, and his own intellectual obsessions. That and the Oxford locations are both reminiscent of Dexter's stories, but this is very much its own historic tale, focused on the turmoil caused by the multiple violent shifts in English religion between the reigns of Henry and Elizabeth.

This is a well-written and captivating story, which kept me turning the pages. The characters are all well-drawn, whether heroes, victims or villains. A few are well-established historical personages, like Elizabeth's spymaster, Sir Francis Walsingham, and these are portrayed very much as we might expect. Similarly the practical aspects of Elizabethan life and the physical details of the Oxford and London locations are brought clearly and colourfully to life by Parris' descriptions.

The decision to tell the story in the first person, from the standpoint of the central character, is a slightly odd one, in that it allows for no uncertainty in respect of his motives or progress. His own ambivalence on certain moral issues, and some self-doubt, are well portrayed, but overall I think I prefer a slightly more neutral viewpoint in stories of this nature.

Another minor complaint is that my pre-publication copy of the book had a few errors of typography and grammar, but I hope these will be eliminated in the fully proof-read published version.

Those niggles aside, this is an excellent read, which I thoroughly enjoyed, and I heartily recommend it to anyone who fancies a good mediaeval murder mystery.
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184 of 197 people found the following review helpful
TOP 500 REVIEWERon 11 March 2010
The press notes that accompanied this book claims that it will be a "blockbuster". I think that's wishful thinking on the part of the publisher, but that's okay. True "blockbuster" books are accessible to all readers, like "The DaVinci Code" and "Love Story". They tend to "read" like the movie scripts they often become.

No, I don't think "Heresy" will become a mega-bestseller. It is much too deeply plotted and written to appeal to the average reader. I'm not saying this in a snobbish way; I just think the reader of "Heresy" must have a fairly good background in Tudor/Church history in order to understand it and enjoy it.

"Heresy" is set in Oxford in the mid-1580's, with a prologue set about ten years earlier in Naples. The main character, Giordano Bruno, a "monk, scientist, philosopher, and magician", begins questioning the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church a little too deeply - particularly in regard to Copernicus's beliefs about the earth revolving around the sun, rather than vise-versa - and departs his monastery one step before the Inquisition. He works his way to England as a "traveling scholar" and finds himself in Oxford, hired by the English government to help expose Catholics still worshiping in secret. Even though Elizabeth has been on the throne for thirty years or so and the English church is well established, her government is afraid of Catholic elements championing her cousin, Catholic Mary, Queen of Scotland, as the REAL ruler of England.

Bruno comes to Oxford, to Lincoln College (a real Oxford college) with a larger group. Soon scholars at Lincoln begin to be killed in rather disgusting ways and Bruno steps up to help find the murderer. Add in the various personalities always present "in college", as well as the various religious factions, and it turns out that very few people are who they say they are or the religions they profess to practice.

It all adds up to a very interesting story, with a little love interest for Bruno. It's worth reading by those who will appreciate it.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Set in 16th century England this novel follows the adventures of Giordano Bruno, a free thinker in an age where thoughts could be dangerous, in Elizabethan Oxford. Sent there on a commission from the head of Elizabeth Tudor's secret service, Walsingham, and with a few personal goals in mind he soon finds himself involved in a series of bloody murders.

All the ingredients are here - search for a lost ancient heretical text, gory and inventinve deaths, quirky protagonist, political machinations, the great religious upheaval of the 16th century and the struggles of the people caught up in it. The ground is familiar, and will inevitably draw comparisons with the Shardlake novels and 'The Name of the Rose. (Personally, given the inspiration for the methods of death and the inventiveness with which they are realised, I was also reminded slightly of the 'Abominable Dr. Phibes'!) An author has to do very well to standout and not be accused of a tired retread. S.J. Parris does remarkably well.

The book has been well researched, and, apart from some of the speech, there are no glaring anachronisms. Her writing style nicely brings to life Elizabethan Oxford, and I found the central character to be well drawn and interesting. The plot is nicely intricate and involving, and though it seems to go over old ground it is told in such a way as to keep you interested. Personally I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book, and look forward with great anticipation to the next instalment.

Recommended to all lovers good mystery novels and historical fiction.
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95 of 104 people found the following review helpful
on 19 July 2011
Too many books in this genre are being shoved onto the market in a rush to catch the current historical fad, with the inevitable result that the quality falls. Somewhat foolishly I thought that top flight author plugs might be a worthwhile indicator, however, with this book the cover reccomendations seem to have no connection with the contents - do the quoted famous names ever actually read the books they comment on? But still, more fool me for being taken in so easily.

You only get to page 11 before finding a reference to the 'gibbous moon', a sure fire sign of a writer on auto pilot. Then shortly after that Sir Philip Sydney arrives on the scene to greet our hero with a barrage hearty cod Elizabethan back slapping that could have been lifted straight out of Blackadder.

Despite being set in the 16C. the hero has a completely 21C. view of the cosmos, apparently unsupported by any scientific research, presumably he just guessed it. Likewise the female lead, Sophia, has a full set of up to date feminist views. There are a wide range of other anachronisms; when given an instruction the aged retainer replies 'Will do Sir'. A little later someone refers to 'the weekend'.

It's not completely awful, there's a professional air to the writing, but the rushed bits and the mistakes do ruin the flow. I read it all the way through and came away with the feeling that with more care and attention, and a decent editor, there was good book in here somewhere.

The best historical book (perhaps more accurately - pre historical)I have read recently was a real page turner called Rude Awakening by someone called Ian Okell. I've stuck in a product link if you're interested.
Rude Awakening
Rude Awakening
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49 of 54 people found the following review helpful
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I have to be honest and say that I approached this book with a lot of apprehension. It seemed like such a rip off.

The pseudonym adopted by the author, SJ Parris seems closely modelled on CJ Sansom.

The subject matter is very close. Both are set in Tudor times and focus on the religious conflicts of the age and their links to the Crown. Both feature a hero who is a bit of an outsider. Here we have Bruno who is a distrusted foreigner and Sansom has Shardlake who is ridiculed for his disability. Both heroes are caught up in events as the slightly unwilling agents of close advisers (or even powers behind the throne) of the monarch, Walsingham in this book and Cromwell in the Shardlake series.

Even the plot, with a series of murders in a closed community (here an Oxford college) echoes that of the initial Shardlake story, Dissolution (set in a monastery) (which of course itself is similar to Umberto Eco's "The Name of The Rose").

However, despite the appearance of a blatant cash in SJ Parris has produced a gripping novel which combines an excellent detective story with a well researched historical novel which gives the reader insight into the age and the very real polarised religious differences which existed at the time.

Bruno was an actual historical figure (something I only discovered half way through reading the book) and we are treated to a depiction of how even though he was one of the most original thinkers of his age much of his methodology in pursuit of a proof of his theory relying as he does on his pursuit of a long forgotten text.

The thriller plot is archetypal and can be compared to a country house mystery in many ways. The "themed" murders (here based on the deaths of various martyrs) is also a well trodden path.

Once again this lack of originality does not make it a bad book but simply a very good example of the genre.

Despite my initial misgivings I really enjoyed this book and would counsel others to try it, despite the apparent attempt simply to write to meet a certain market.

SJ Parris is an excellent writer and I hope that this is not the last we hear of Bruno.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 28 December 2011
I had great hopes for this book - not on the basis of a recommendation or a review - but on the initial prospects for the characters and setting for the book. However my interest slowed to a crawl along with the pace of the story about half way through. So I put the book down and restarted some months later from about quarter of the way through - and got bogged down again in the same area. The plot was not evolving at nearly enough pace to maintain any interest. In my entire book reading history this is only the fourth or fifth time I have not finished a book.
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46 of 51 people found the following review helpful
TOP 100 REVIEWERon 9 November 2009
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I have to say up front that I opened this book with some trepidation. My selection of reading matter has been a little dubious recently, and I must admit that it is a long time since I have read a story of this type (historical detective fiction) which I have enjoyed as much.

In 1576, at a Monastery in Naples, a monk named Giordano Bruno is to face the dreaded inquisition after being caught reading a forbidden book - the commentaries of Erasmus. Knowing how far the Inquisitors will go to get a confession of heresy, and having witnesses the burning of a heretic, he decides to flee. The trouble is Bruno's flight is taken as an automatic confession of guilt and he is, therefore, declared a heretic in his absence.

By 1583 Bruno has found his way to England and finds himself in the employ of Sir Francis Walsingham, Secretary of State and Queen Elizabeth's spy catcher. Walsingham wants him to go to Oxford University to discover who the Catholic rebels are. Things, however, become more complicated when Bruno, and his friend Phillip, encounter a series of gruesome murders where the victims seem to have been killed for their alleged heresy - I did find that the murders reminded me a little of the Messiah (by Boris Starling), but this is more my sort of detective story.

Unlike several of the other reviewers I have not read any of C J Samsom's books (although I might give them a try). I was a fan of Ellis Peter's Cadfael when I was younger but admit I gave up the struggle to find anything similar which I enjoyed reading - until now.

S J Parris (aka journalist Stephanie Merritt) has produced a well written, character driven, murder mystery; but it's more than that, there is a descriptive element to the book which is not intrusive - she has managed to achieve a balance between scene setting and story telling. Nor is it too much of a history lesson - yes, there are a couple of historical inaccuracies, but I found that they didn't spoil the context of the story.

I normally dislike first person narrative, I usually find them impossible to read, but I found this very easy to get to grips with.

There is, of course, the mandatory bad guy's monologue - which is necessary to explain his motives and to give vent to his excuses, and, without which we, the reader, would have no way of knowing the how and why behind his actions.

The story flows nicely, moving along at a steady pace - there was no time at which I felt I was reading something which wasn't necessary to the story in some way. It is also great to see that an author has done their historical research and been able to apply it to the story in such a way that it brings the historical setting to life.

There is one thing that I have never understood - why use a penname when writing a story if you are going to have your real name in the bumf on the back of the book - it seems to defeat the object of the exercise of having a pseudonym in the first place.

I thoroughly enjoyed this captivating story; it was a pleasure to read. I can tell you that I spent over 2 hours 30 minutes reading this book while waiting for an appointment and I didn't notice the time had gone. It is a long time since I have felt this gushing about a new book; and I look forward to the next adventure of Giordano Bruno with anticipation.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 2 March 2012
As so many others have pointed out, much of this book uses 20th century phrases and sayings, and it ruins the story. It also takes forever to get anywhere and by the time it does, you have almost lost the will to continue reading the book. In the end I simply did not care one way or the other about any of it. Sorry to say that this is my first, and last, S J Parris.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 13 November 2014
One tends to forget, in celebrating the richness and glories of Elizabeth 1st reign, that hideous state ordered torture and death continued under Elizabeth's spymaster in chief Sir Francis Walsingham presumably with Royal sanction. Heresy, the first book in Parris' Giordano Bruno series, looks this truth straight in the face and challenges the reader to try and understand the religious and political climate that fuelled this. The reader is not spared any gory details of the kind of death heretics were forced to endure. Our hero, Bruno, is reluctantly recruited by Walsingham, and thus we are introduced to the feared and powerful man behind Elizabeth's throne. Having been steeped in reformation history, as a lifelong Anglican who has been keen to understand the roots of Anglicanism, the religious arguments and debates read easily enough to me. But I think that for readers coming to the book with less background knowledge, Bruno, a former Italian monk who has fled the Inquisition, is an inspired choice of character to weave these debates around. Parris, whose love and knowledge of Elizabethan history shines through throughout, succeeds in making a good, if somewhat bizarre and contrived murder mystery around Bruno's visit to Oxford, where he hopes to find a lost and forbidden book.

I felt that the story resonated with the sights and sounds of Elizabethan times though there were one or two slightly jarring anachronisms. (I do not believe that an Elizabethan would, for example, have used the word "paranoid" to describe someone.) I loved the way certain characters were challenged and threatened by Copernicus's ideas about the solar system for example. It is hard to imagine how difficult those ideas must have seemed and how the natural response of many would have been to reject them as nonsense and to cry heretic.
Giodorno Bruno really did visit Oxford and take part in a debate about Copernicus's ideas. Whether or not he was actually recruited by Walsingham has been the subject of much speculation among Tudor cognoscenti.

For me the story definitely merited a 5 for all the above reasons and more, but it certainly cannot be classed as an easy read. Some reviewers compare Parris unfavourably to Sansom's Tudor mysteries. Personally I think it is unfair to compare the two. Sansom certainly requires less mental processing of complex ideas by his readers and the plot fairly races along. Parris, on the other hand has arguably written a more intellectually challenging tale but this perhaps reflects the historical fact that Elizabethan times were in fact more politically and religiously complex than those of Henry. It was incumbent on even the most ordinary man and woman on the street in Elizabethan times to be clear about their beliefs and how these chimed with the expectations of the day. Their very lives could depend on this. We see this reflected in Shakespeare where argument and counter argument are used by even the lowliest characters.

The fanaticism of some characters in the story has of course many present day parallels. We find ourselves, in the 21st century, suddenly having to engage and explore fanatical religious beliefs in a society that has spent decades disaffecting its citizens from organised religion and in so doing effectively disenfranchising them from the ability to engage with and understand the issues and feelings underpinning terrorism fuelled by religious fanaticism. We are de-skilled and cut off from the very history and heritage that could aid us. In that sense then "Heresy" could be seen as not just a good story but an important tool in helping us to reconnect.
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