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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent dip into the late 14th century!
I found this book really refreshing to read - one set in the late 14th century just after the Black Death and including a mysterious book that makes some uncomfortable predictions...

I LOVE the Tudor era but almost all the decent historcal fiction these days seems to be from that era or the Romans - it's just nice to be enveloped by the sights and sounds and...
Published 17 months ago by Uncle Barbar

versus
7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars A tedious vanity project
By chapter 12 I'd endured all I could of this self indulgent twaddle and returned it to Audible. I'm sorry to have to give it just 1 out of 5 but I couldn't find a single redeemable feature in those dozen chapters. If you like sublime historical novels such as 'Q' or 'Altai' by the Wu Ming/Luther Blisset collective or Umberto Eco then you'll hate this book. If you find...
Published 11 months ago by Nigel Collier


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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent dip into the late 14th century!, 14 Feb. 2014
By 
Uncle Barbar (Essex, England) - See all my reviews
(TOP 100 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: A Burnable Book (John Gower 1) (Hardcover)
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I found this book really refreshing to read - one set in the late 14th century just after the Black Death and including a mysterious book that makes some uncomfortable predictions...

I LOVE the Tudor era but almost all the decent historcal fiction these days seems to be from that era or the Romans - it's just nice to be enveloped by the sights and sounds and smells of the medieval period. And Holsinger does create a believable world of 14th century London - I felt like I was there following his main protagonist, meeting with Chaucer and following his trials and tribulations through this swirling , fast paced romp.

A thoroughly good read for me!
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5.0 out of 5 stars Intrigue and Counter Intrigue, 15 Feb. 2014
By 
Brett H "pentangle" (Brighton) - See all my reviews
(TOP 50 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: A Burnable Book (John Gower 1) (Hardcover)
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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 come. The advisors he has chosen to surround himself with now he has attained his majority are unpopular with the people. His uncle,John of Gaunt ,Duke of Lancaster and his son,Henry, are powerful figures and Richard is very nervous of their ambitions.

Into this boiling pot is thrown rumours of a book, said to have already foretold the deaths of twelve English kings and now to contain the date and manner of death of the thirteenth - Richard himself.
Poet Geoffrey Chaucer (yes, that Geoffrey Chaucer) persuades his old friend, John Gloveron gatherer and seller, to find the book of prophecy for him.

Relentlessly pursuing his quarry leads Gower into the butchery of Southwark and to the red light districts of the city. As the body counts rise it seems the plot has been already discovered and the King spared but there is yet more Gower must uncover and much of it is not to his liking or advantage as the novel moves to its climax.

This is a well written historical novel from an author well versed in the Middle Ages as an academic. It is hardly surprising the details of 14th century London are so accurately drawn but it is quite spellbinding nonetheless. The characterisation is also good and the insecurity of the King, particularly around his uncle Lancaster, is well portrayed.

This is a great Medieval plot of intrigue and counter intrigue and the truth takes much unravelling. If you enjoy this genre then this novel will certainly keep you reading to the end.
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Vivid and gripping, a 14th century thriller, 31 Jan. 2014
By 
Bookie (UK) - See all my reviews
(TOP 100 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: A Burnable Book (John Gower 1) (Hardcover)
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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5.0 out of 5 stars Don't burn this book!, 31 May 2015
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This review is from: A Burnable Book (Kindle Edition)
Superbly written Middle Ages intrigue, set in the reign of Richard II. There's a tangible, tactile & contemporary style to the narrative as it moves fluidly between the fleshpots and political arenas of long ago London - you can practically smell the sex and fear wafting out of the pages.
John Gower is a complex central character. He's made his way through life trading on others' weaknesses and secrets, yet has a firm sense of his own moral code. A hero for a corrupt world. When Chaucer embroils him in the search for a dangerous book his own secret looks like unravelling. Gower's travels through Southwark and Gropecunt Lane show how vast (in terms of living standards) yet small (in terms of interaction and traversing heirachal levels) was the gap between poor whores and affluent men.
The book in question has the power to bring down the highest in the land: it's disappeared and therein lies an even greater threat. Gower is on the case.
I had to read this through to the end in one go - don't burn this book, gobble it up!
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Strong Debut, 30 Jan. 2014
By 
Lovely Treez (Belfast, N Ireland) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: A Burnable Book (John Gower 1) (Hardcover)
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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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars ok but too long, 5 Oct. 2014
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This review is from: A Burnable Book (Kindle Edition)
A quite interesting story but over long and somewhat laboured at times. There is occasionally a tendency to insult the reader's intelligence with unnecessary explanations. Characterisation is generally weak. The author does convincingly conjure up the atmosphere of the times but he is no CJ Sansom.
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5.0 out of 5 stars An exciting tale of medieval intrigue, 20 Mar. 2014
By 
Gillian Jack (Edinburgh, Scotland) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: A Burnable Book (John Gower 1) (Hardcover)
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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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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars I have put this book down about a third of ..., 20 Aug. 2014
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This review is from: A Burnable Book (John Gower 1) (Hardcover)
I have put this book down about a third of the way into the novel. It fails to capture any sense of time or place despite its use of ripe mediaeval language and florid descriptions. There appears to be a confusing use of tense that makes the prose seem jarring and cumbersome at times.
I am a fan of historical novels and I have read books by C J Sansom, Rory Clements and Nigel Green, all of whom can conjure up a credible sense of time and place which is sadly missing from A Burnable Book. Perhaps Professor Holsinger is trying to be a little too clever and misses the plot?
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars A tedious vanity project, 22 Aug. 2014
By 
Nigel Collier (Hull) - See all my reviews
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By chapter 12 I'd endured all I could of this self indulgent twaddle and returned it to Audible. I'm sorry to have to give it just 1 out of 5 but I couldn't find a single redeemable feature in those dozen chapters. If you like sublime historical novels such as 'Q' or 'Altai' by the Wu Ming/Luther Blisset collective or Umberto Eco then you'll hate this book. If you find Ellis Peters, Dan Brown or David Gibbins harmless then it's worth a look, but read all of those first. The device around which the story revolves - a prophecy veiled in an utterly tedious and preposterous cryptic poem with clues straight out of a Times crossword - is like Dan Brown at his very worst. Nor did I like Holsinger's writing style which feels more like a screenplay than a novel: very heavy on dialogue, with the intervening stuff more like perfunctory stage/set directions than descriptive prose.

It would be easy to be too harsh on the narrator who tries manfully to cope with the challenges of this book's shortfalls, but he just doesn't have the tools. When you combine his ropey cockney with the absolutely mangled vernacular of the commoners it is just an irritating garble; his off-the-shelf approximations of Spanish and Italian 'accents' are no better, but the most irritating is the voice he uses for ALL noblemen and courtiers, which is EXACTLY like Peter Cook's Olivier-channelled Richard III from the first series of Black Adder, perhaps with a hint of Brian Blessed's random shoutiness.

As other reviewers have noted, there are too many characters. In a print book you maybe stand a chance of keeping abreast of them all, but in an audiobook, especially with language as mangled and pretentious as this (see below), and with such a limited palate of accents from the narrator (see above), you have no chance - it's all just bewildering and you repeatedly glaze over and cease caring.

But the biggest problem lies with the fact that the author is an academic historian. You may think this would be an asset for a historical novel and you'd be right, if the academic knowledge and enthusiasm were used judiciously to enhance the narrative with some authentic atmosphere.

David Milch, for example, who created the stunning TV show Deadwood shows how this balance can be successful, combining beautifully written Shakespearian soliloquies but suffused with effing and blinding. Why? Because if Deadwood had used the x-rated language of the period it would have sounded quaint and underpowered to our modern ears - being 'authentic' would have completely undermined the force of the narrative. To Milch, storytelling was more important than authenticity.

In this novel however, the author parades their geeky familiarity with the language of 14th century London, cramming into the dialogue as many references and slang as possible, which is utterly obtrusive and overwhelms and suffocates the narrative (the same goes for the descriptions of London which seem just too jarringly and consciously well-researched to disappear into the backdrop). It is a vanity project for the academic who lectures on historical fiction much more than it is meant to entertain. Chaucer does not lend himself to writing page turning mysteries, and trying far too hard to emulate his style in writing a modern novel may appeal to Chaucer fans who will admire the author's skill in replicating it, but to the ordinary reader who wants to be entertained by a good mystery, it simply kills it. Less is more, too much 'authenticity' is just incongruous.

When you combine this with the narrator, it makes the audiobook insufferable to listen to - it sounds like a cod Name of the Rose written by Stanley Unwin and narrated by John Sessions in maximum mugging mode.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Too complicated, 22 Aug. 2014
This review is from: A Burnable Book (John Gower 1) (Hardcover)
A complicated tale of a plot aginst Richard II involving a book of false regicidal prophecies, mercenaries in Italy, John of Gaunt, the Earl of Oxford, Chaucer and (the main protagonist) John Gower, not to mention a lively cast of London prostitutes both female and transgender. I found it hard to keep track of the many strands and mised a character to empathise with. It didn't engross me as C.J. Sansom's Tudor London mysteries do despite sharing a concern with royal politics, plots and low life. I was often niggled by seeming errors: why is Sir Michael de la Pole referred to as a baron when the Sir in front of his name clearly shows that he is a knight? Are "will he goeth?" and "to giveth up the ghost" grammatically correct? OK I admit it, I'm a pedant. But what about Katherine Swynford's ambition to become a member of the Order of the Garter? Didn't she know that the members of Order of the Garter were all male?
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A Burnable Book (John Gower 1)
A Burnable Book (John Gower 1) by Bruce Holsinger (Hardcover - 30 Jan. 2014)
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