Heresy is the first of a series of novels by S. J. Parris based on the real life of Italian philosopher Giordano Bruno. The prologue begins in 1576 when the Dominican Fra Giordano must escape the Roman Inquisition for his belief that the earth rotates around the sun as well as his study of magic. After his escape from Naples Bruno has traveled through Italy, then to Paris, and is now in England. He is reliant on benefactors, such as the King of France, for his living expenses. The time is now May 1583.
During his travels, Bruno befriended Sir Philip Sidney, who is recently engaged to the daughter of Queen Elizabeth’s spymaster Sir Francis Walsingham. Walsingham pays Bruno to go to Oxford to help investigate whether there are any Catholics among the scholars since the practice of the Catholic faith has been outlawed by the queen. It is arranged for Bruno to debate Rector Underhill about the theories of Copernicus. While there he is to find and infiltrate any group of Catholics.
Bruno has a hidden motive in wanting to visit the university. Many books were banned and burned by the Royal Commission in 1569, including those in Oxford’s library. Bruno is trying to find a missing manuscript written by Hermes Trismegistus regarding the ability of man to be able to enter and understand the divine mind of God. He believes the library at Oxford holds the key to locating this book.
The morning of the debate one of the fellows is killed by a mad dog in a courtyard. As a witness to the murder, Bruno is requested to stay at Oxford for the investigation. He quickly learns that no one at Oxford is truly who he seems. There is in fact a group of Catholics among the faculty and students, including the murder victim. An anonymous note indicates that the murder, and the two more deaths that follow, are being done in a style to mimic the deaths of three saints. While it is obvious the murders are being done in the name of religion, it is unclear whether the culprit is Protestant or Catholic.
The story picks up towards the end when Bruno is lured into a dangerous position on the promise of information regarding the missing Trismegistus book. He is further motivated by his attraction to Rector Underhill’s daughter, Sophia, who has mysteriously disappeared.
The author does a good job of depicting Tudor England, especially regarding those who were forced to give up their Catholic faith by Henry VIII and his daughter Elizabeth.
3-stars. I liked the story but didn’t love it. This book was published in 2010 and is 435 pages long. The subsequent five books in the series have higher ratings on Goodreads than this first one.
I chose this book for part of the Book Warriors 2021 Bingo Reading Challenge. I needed to fill the square for “A book whose author shares your first, middle, or last name.”