The Dead of Winter: Three Giordano Bruno Novellas, by S.J. Parris

Eight stars

With this release of three novellas in the Giordano Bruno series, fans can enjoy two previously published pieces and a new story, just in time for Christmas. While I binged the entire series earlier this year, I was eager to return for a little more Bruno and his cunning ways. The reader learns a little more about the early days of Bruno’s time as a monk, including the struggles that face him. There is the curious Bruno who finds the confines of priory rules slightly troublesome, causing him to write his own. The final story has Bruno being called to Rome to answer for some of the antics he’s undertaken, though the young monk does not feel that he has offended anyone, at least those with an open mind. S. J. Parris does a masterful job, particularly for series fans, as she explores those early days, when Bruno was still captivated with serving God above all others!

The Secret Dead

It is Naples in 1566 and the city is in the middle of a stifling heat wave. Giordano Bruno is all of eighteen and has recently entered the monastery to devote himself to God. He is known not to be completely on the straight and narrow, having issues listening to those in authority. However, when Bruno is called away one night to help Fra Gennaro, he goes with all the curiosity that he can muster. Gennaro admits that he wishes to share something with Bruno that must be kept highly secret, taking him to the site of a body. This is a young whore who appears to have been strangled, though the reasons are as yet unknown.

During the anatomising of the body (one might call it early autopsy work), Bruno and Gennaro discover that she was pregnant, which only adds to the drama. While Bruno vows to keep this to himself, he cannot help but try to piece it all together, trying to determine who would have done this to a young woman, even if she held an unwanted offspring. This is surely the spark that led to the great crime solving work of Giordano Bruno in the years to come, all while holding up his end of a monastic life.

The Academy of Secrets

It is Naples in 1568 and a young Giordano Bruno is the rising star at the priory, though his penchant for seeking knowledge outside of the strict role of a monk has become apparent to many. Fra Gennaro, another monk and the local medical professional, takes him under his wing and introduces Bruno to a group of philosophically-minded men, headed by Don Giambattista. These men call themselves the Academy of Secrets, meeting to discuss mental and physical experiments that they have been undertaking, as well as recommending reading—a great deal of which lies outside that permitted by the Church. Bruno takes an especially great interest and Giambattista agrees to grant the young monk access to his libraries.

Juggling his time at the priory, and with the help of Fra Gennaro to cover for his absence, Bruno makes his way there to expand his knowledge. His arrival is met with another surprise, the young and attractive niece to Don Giambattista. Bruno’s work is shelved as he and Fiammetta engage in something a tad more carnal. Bruno slips away and heads back to the priory, keeping his secret to himself, but another of the young monks seems to have discovered that there is something amiss. While Bruno continues to make daily trips to the library and to see Fiammetta, the Academy of Secrets is in jeopardy. When Bruno is kept from his daily journey on one occasion, things turn deadly and questions arise. With his weakened connection of the priory already clear, some must wonder if Bruno took matters into his own hands.

A Christmas Requiem

It is Naples in the late autumn of 1569. A young monk of 21, Giordano Bruno, is continuing his studies and showing just how sharp his mind can be. Honing a parlour trick of sorts, Bruno can recite any of the psalms, forwards or backwards, in a number of different languages. This has caught the eye of some of the senior officials, but it is another missive from Rome that really causes a stir. Bruno’s presence is requested at the Vatican to see His Holiness, Pope Pius V. This must be a joke, right?

When Bruno makes it to Rome, just in time for the Christmas season, he is unsure what awaits him. However, being a young and still somewhat lustful man, Bruno finds himself caught in the web of desire with a woman. This woman, while also highly beautiful, has ecclesiastical connections that could ruin Bruno if he’s not careful. Still, lust is one temptation not easily dissipated by prayer.

When the Holy Father meets with Bruno, the topic at hand is heresy. It is not only the goings on in England under Queen Elizabeth that is causing ire, but Bruno’s repeated conflicts over banned publications by Protestants that has the Pope up in arms. When it’s discovered that Bruno can recite the psalms, much consternation is levelled against the young monk and he’s lucky to escape with his life. Might the pious life not be the best thing for Giordano Bruno after all, if he cannot express himself and expand his mind?

I have come to love the books in this series, not only for the mysteries they present, but also because there is so much history for the reader to enjoy. Parris does well developing her stories effectively and peppers them with fact and massaged fiction to tell a great tale. As with her novels, these novellas proved highly entertaining and are written so as to make the reader feel they have gone back in time. The novellas can, if one chooses, be read as standalone, though I am not sure why anyone would want to deprive themselves of such a wonderful series in its entirety. S. J,. Parris has much to offer and one can only hope that there are more books to come to keep series fans excited.

Kudos, Madam Parris, for an exciting collection of stories that remind me how much I enjoy Giordano Bruno. I cannot wait to see what else you have to offer soon.