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.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

Execution (Giordano Bruno #6), by S.J. Parris

Eight stars

In the latest Elizabethan mystery from the desk of S.J. Parris, the reader sees Giordano Bruno thrust into the middle of another assassination plot on English soil. Not long after sailing from France, Bruno encounters the daughter of Sir Francis Walsingham and learns some dire news. It would seem that Lady Walsingham’s servant has been killed and the murderer is still at large. As Bruno offers condolences, he learns that Clara Poole had dealings with those who sought to bring down the reign of Elizabeth and replace her with Mary Guise. England’s religious war has reached its zenith, where two ‘queens’ exist, but only one will assume control, with the other sure to be executed for treason. Bruno and Sir Francis devise a plan to infiltrate the group of plotters in order to learn of the plan and bring those responsible to justice. Bruno assumes the role of an elderly Spanish priest with known ties to the papists and begins his reconnaissance. As he plays his role, Bruno reunites with Sophia Underhill, who has re-emerged with a new persona and is still trying to find her way. Juggling his feelings for Sophia, the acts of betrayal she has readily committed, and the current plot against Elizabeth, Bruno must be sure not to tip his hand too much while also deciding if he wants to open his heart one final time. With a plot ready to be enacted and a plant within the Queen’s household prepared to take the needed risk, Bruno will have to alert Walsingham before it is too late. However, things go awry and Bruno is discovered, opening up new challenges that may, once and for all, lead to his downfall. An excellent addition to this historical mystery series that shows Parris has what it takes to compete with others in the genre. Recommended to those who love the Elizabethan time period, as well as the reader who needs a little mystery in their lives!

It has been an intense two weeks of binge reading the books in this series, all of which offer different and enticing perspectives of the political and religious goings-on in the 1580s throughout England and on the continent. Parris has exemplified a strong connection to the history of the day, adding homicidal crimes and deception throughout to keep the reader guessing. Her protagonist, Giordano Bruno, remains at the centre of each book, developing as a character while also reflecting on some of the instances from his past that left him at odds with the Church. Bruno continues to struggle with the inner war between theology and philosophy, something that can be traced back to his time in the San Domenico Priory. Add to that, the constant struggle with matters of the heart and an accurate sense of logic find Bruno the perfect fit for the role. While Bruno often finds himself in a sticky situation or two, his experiences provide the reader with a better grasp on the social and political struggles taking place in the late 16th century. Parris continues to experiment with new characters—both those who are historically accurate and of her own creation—who fill the page with unique points of view, while adding to the historical events about which the reader might not be aware. The story is effectively paced and develops without impediment, leaving the reader to pay close attention in order to properly understand. These books are not superficial and can occasionally appear dense, requiring dedication and patience by the reader to push through those portions that may not be to their liking. In reading the series, I was forced to concentrate, which sometimes made for a more interesting read and surely taught me a great deal. A mix of chapter lengths and a plot that never takes a break allows Parris to create a plausible story full of detail and intrigue. I have thoroughly enjoyed the journey and am left to wonder if Giordano Bruno will be back for more. There is a new novella on the way, at least, which is something about which to get excited!

Kudos, Madam Parris, for more great reading. I hope your ideas continue as the intensity of the Elizabethan era has not yet lost its lustre to me.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

The Academy of Secrets: A Prequel Novella (Giordano Bruno #0.6), by S.J. Parris

Eight stars

Amongst my binge reading of S.J. Parris’ powerful Elizabethan mystery series comes the second of the novellas, best called another prequel piece before the major novels moved things into England proper. 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 Bruno 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. Another great preface piece to get the reader intrigued about the early life of Giordano Bruno (though its release before the sixth novel will serve as a significant flashback for series fans). It helped solidify some of the sentiments with the other novella and the opening chapter of Book 1, which I appreciate greatly. Recommended to those who enjoy Giordano Bruno as a character, as well as anyone looking for a launching point into a great Elizabethan mystery series that utilises a great protagonist.

I have spent the past two weeks binge reading the books in this series, including the first preface novella that introduced me to Giordano Bruno, the renegade monk. I admit that I was tricked into thinking that this was a piece that would bridge books 5 and 6 of the series (released the month before the latest novel), but should better be labelled as another prequel piece, offering a great deal of monk and priory backstory, perfect for those who wish to take the plunge into this entire series to date. Giordano Bruno is a rising star at the priory, but has long since mentioned his interest in cosmology and philosophical discussions, rather than theological tomes. He has also chosen to keep his carnal thoughts at the front of his mind, rather than stored away, as becomes apparent throughout this piece. Bruno’s thirst for knowledge is clear in this piece, though a theme of renegade actions also shape his character development. A handful of other characters flavour the text and provide the reader with some added backstory into the world of Giordano Bruno. The story moved along well and held my attention throughout, providing some context for the man I have seen grow over his three years and five previous novels. I am eager to see how Bruno’s character might be shaped by the events here, though my sharp memory cannot recall too many mentions of his priory life or those with whom he had regular encounters. Parris pens this single chapter piece and yet keeps things moving well so that the reader could, should they desire, read this in a single sitting. I might recommend those interested in the series to pick this one up before tackling the full novels, though with another novella set to come out in December 2020, waiting until then might be best for the reader who loves a good binge!

Kudos, Madam Parris, for an interesting early piece in the series. I have come to highly enjoy your work and hope others find these mysteries just as exciting.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

Conspiracy (Giordano Bruno #5), by S.J. Parris

Eight stars

Back with another instalment of S.J. Parris’ Elizabethan mystery series, the reader sees Giordano Bruno in his fifth adventure. Taking things out of England, Parris sends her protagonist to France, where the religious politics have reached a boiling point. When visiting a friend in Paris, Giordano Bruno seeks guidance from Paul Lefèvre, a priest in the local abby. Not long after, Lefèvre is found clinging to life and utters a single word to Bruno before he dies. Unsettling as it is, Bruno is unsure who might be behind this and goes to see the current French monarch, Henri III. While discussing the murder with Henri, Bruno learns more about the Catholic League, an organization with the push to keep France firmly in the Vatican’s column. This movement is being run by the Duke of Guise, a name Bruno knows well from his time in the middle of the religious fights in England. With the Duke eyeing the French Throne, he stirs up controversy about the current monarch and tries to pin the murder of Lefèvre on Bruno, an obvious former Catholic reprobate. As tensions rise in Paris, Bruno is soon confronted by the Queen Mother, none other than Catherine de Medici, whose own past is full of iron-fisted moments as she watched her sons limply rule over France. As more bodies pile up, Bruno is eager to find a killer and set the record straight, even as the League is pushing harder. Even word that Sophia Underhill is in Paris cannot shake Bruno’s resolve, but he will need more than that to save himself and France from coming apart at the seams. Another stellar novel in the series shows that S.J. Parris knows what she’s doing with this historical thriller series. Recommended to those who love this time period, as well as the reader who finds mysteries from another age to be just as (or more) interesting!

As I have said before, this series is not light and superficial, as it tackles the time period and much of the political machinations head-on. Investing much time and dedicating myself to become more comfortable with the detail Parris offers has paid off. She continues with detailed writing style that offers a learning experience on every page, though some proverbial rabbit holes down which she takes the reader are clearer than others. Giordano Bruno offers a slightly different perspective in this piece, back in France, with a monarch who sought to protect him from the Inquisition. Bruno owes much to Henri III, but also his friend Paul Lefèvre, even though they sit on opposite sides of the Catholic question. Bruno works diligently to turn over all stones to find a killer, even when he is yet again painted as a possible suspect, all because of his background and apparent religious leanings. His being a level-headed man has moments when Bruno is praised but also vilified, as though he is trying to deflect away from his beliefs. Said beliefs are not as accepted as they were in England, an issue that Bruno discovers as the Catholic League gains momentum on Paris streets. Parris does not put her protagonist on a clear path, tossing political and religious issues in his way, as well as injecting some subplots from past novels that need more depth or resolution This is a brilliant way to add character development and allows series fans to see how softy arcs develop for those who are attentive. Parris returns with more new characters—a mix of historically accurate and those of her own creation—who fill the narrative with their own points of view, while adding to the historical events about which the reader might not be aware. The story remains well-paced and constantly develops, forcing the reader to pay close attention and connect some dots within the narrative or overall series. The reader is outside of England for once, which adds new flavour to the plot, but the English still have a role to play throughout the struggle that sees France on the tipping point. With a mix of chapter lengths and plot that never takes a break in is evolution, Parris creates a plausible story and shows some of the lesser known aspects of the time to lay readers such as myself. I will keep reading and see where Bruno will go, as the ride has been exhilarating to this point.

Kudos, Madam Parris, for another story that entertained and educated in equal measure.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

Treachery (Giordano Bruno #4), by S.J, Parris

Eight stars

In the fourth novel from S.J. Parris’ Elizabethan mystery series, the reader sees Giordano Bruno on yet another adventure in a different part of the country. After Giordano Bruno accepts the invitation of Sir Philip Sidney, the two find themselves on the way to dockside town of Plymouth. Spain has begun its war with the Netherlands and is eyeing Protestant England as a possible next target. Sidney wants Bruno to accompany him on a ship to the New World, where England is set to plunder some of the Spanish settlements and return with large amounts of gold. Bruno is slightly hesitant, even when he learns the ship will be captained by none other than Sir Francis Drake. After Bruno and Drake meet one another, news of a death aboard the ship halts any chance of leaving port. As Drake recounts, Robert Dunne was found hanging in his cabin, likely by his own hand. Drake refuses to leave until the body has been removed and an inquiry is done to ensure everything is above board. Bruno wonders if there might be some foul play, but has yet to really investigate the scene or Dunne’s backstory. At this time, Bruno also meets Thomas Drake, brother to the captain and full of his own theories. As a partial distraction, Bruno is told that Sir Francis is in possession of a rare and highly controversial book, one written in Coptic and purported to be the Gospel of Judas Iscariot. After Bruno takes time to examine it and make notes, he asserts that the document tells of a different ending to the man called the traitorous disciple and would surely be a hot commodity, as well as something the Church would want to disappear. Bruno also discovers that an assertive bookseller has been trying to get his hands on the book, a man that Bruno knows all too well from his time in Oxford. As the Dunne investigation gains momentum, Bruno learns that there were two other men who died recently, all three of whom served on a jury of a man convicted of murder. Said individual had recently been released from prison with a grudge. Bruno spends time in Plymouth to learn more about Dunne and those who might have wanted to harm him, learning that a local brothel might hold the key to some of the issues. When other bodies emerge, Bruno realises that there is trouble afoot, as well as the mystery surrounding the controversial book. The more he investigates, the larger a target Bruno places on his back, one that will lead to many issues and could cost him everything. In a story whose plot thickens and narrative gains momentum throughout, this is surely one of the most exciting Giordano Bruno novels to date. Recommended to those who love Elizabethan mysteries steeped in history, as well as those who enjoy the Bruno series in all its permutations.

While the series took some time to get moving, the invested time and dedication surely paid off. Parris continues with a clear and detailed writing style that offers a learning experience on every page. Giordano Bruno returns as protagonist, focussing his attention on the mystery at hand. While his religious past and constantly being mistaken for a Spaniard serve as thorns in his side, Bruno is able to see past this and work diligently to help those around him. Level-headed, Bruno relies on his intellect and wit, rather than pure luck and blind faith to reveal truths that take some time to piece together. Parris uses some historical events to set more important groundwork for the developing series and present England as ripe for the picking by Catholic powers on the continent. Parris devises wonderful characters—a mix of historically accurate and those of her own creation—who fill the narrative with their own points of view and keep the mystery going strong, as well as revealing some of the social issues of the time. The story proves to be well-paced and developed, tossing off the minute detail that I found bogged down the first two novels, but still can be a tad intense for those looking for a superficial read. Parris takes the reader to Plymouth and the heart of the shipping industry. With chapters of a decent length and a plot that evolves throughout, Parris creates a plausible story and injects needed social commentary to show that things were not always upbeat and exuberant. I want to keep reading and see where Bruno will go, as well as how some of the cliffhangers from past novels work themselves out!

Kudos, Madam Parris, for another griping story. I can see that the action won’t be waning anytime soon!

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

Sacrilege (Giordano Bruno #3), by S.J. Parris

Eight stars

S.J. Parris continues with her Elizabethan mystery series, presenting a third stellar novel featuring Giordano Bruno. Dealing less with the politics and religious division of the time, this piece is no less captivating or emotionally trying for our protagonist. After a trying few months, Giordano Bruno enjoys some quieter times in London, still working for the French Ambassador and secretly connected to the English Crown through Sir Francis Walsingham. With the dawn of 1584 comes talk of a plague, which keeps people at a distance and leery of those they do not know. There is also talk that powerful forces on the European mainland may soon strike in yet another war whose undertones are understandably religious. When Bruno runs into a familiar face, Sophia Underhill, things are more worrisome than an encounter with a past love should likely be. Sophia is in disguise—a man, no less—and has made her way to find Bruno so that he might help her. While living as Kate Kingsley, Sophia has been charged with her husband’s death and is likely to face execution in Canterbury. Bruno, his emotions all over the place, agrees to help and makes his way to the religious centre of England, seeking to discover what is going on and how to help Sophia. When he arrives, Bruno begins poking around, laying the groundwork for what he hopes is a quick solution to a legal problem. However, things go wrong and he comes upon a body in an apothecary shop, only to be charged with murder himself by an over-zealous constable. Bruno dodges the law as best he can and learns more about the community, which still holds onto old stories and the ghost of (in)famous Bishop Thomas Beckett. Bruno soon learns that there is a group of men who revere Beckett and seek to make trouble for Queen Elizabeth, but the larger issue is a set of cultish acts that are taking place in secret. Might the murder of Sir Edward Kingsley be tied to others that have taken place? Could the discovery of Beckett’s tomb tell a convincing story? And what of the mysterious book that Bruno has been seeking for years? All this and more comes to light in this telling tale that pulls series fans into the centre of late 16th century England and the historical goings-on of the time. Recommended to those who love a mystery steeped in history, as well as the reader who—like me—have become enamoured with this series over the last while.

While I have found that the series took some time to get moving, dedication pays off for those who use a degree of patience. Parris continues with her clear and detailed style of writing that presents the reader with a learning experience on every page. Giordano Bruno returns as protagonist, able for the most part to focus his attention on the mystery, rather than defending a faith that he fled and having his excommunication serve as a millstone throughout the narrative. While still seen as a foreigner and suffering some xenophobia, Parris tackles this effectively and uses the sentiments of the times to explain how vilification came before understanding. The attentive reader will also see a softer and more emotional side to Bruno, something that has been missing—or at least only hinted at before now—and much needed to build depth in this series. Still level-headed and always looking for clues that will help explain the situation, Bruno relies on his intellect and wit, rather than pure luck and blind faith to help those in need. Bruno’s quasi-duplicitous nature as a spy is less apparent here, though there is some talk of politics throughout, as Europeans powers seek to solidify their control and eye England as a means to crush Protestant sentiment. Parris uses these historical events to set more important groundwork for the developing series, devising wonderful characters—both historically accurate and those of her own creation—who fill the narrative with their own points of view and keep the mystery going strong. The story proves to be well-paced and developed, tossing off the minute detail that I found bogged down the first two novels. Rich with history and some mention of long-held political clashes, Parris takes the reader out to Canterbury, which seems both bucolic on one hand and full of the rich history of Thomas Beckett’s murder on the other. With chapters of a decent length and a plot that evolves throughout, Parris is able to create a plausible story and injects needed educational moments without turning things into a piece that is burdensome. I am excited to keep reading and see where Bruno will go, as well as how some of the emotional revelations in this book develop into something intriguing as the series gains more momentum.

Kudos, Madam Parris, for another winner. While I was leery to begin, my patience has surely paid off greatly. Keep the stories coming!

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

Prophecy (Giordano Bruno #2), by S.J. Parris

Eight stars

Parris returns with another great mystery using her cast of historical characters, led by the most unlikely amateur sleuth, an excommunicated former monk hiding from the Inquisition. The year is 1583 and there is much talk of the Great Conjunction, Saturn and Jupiter aligning, a once-a-millennium event that could herald in much change in the Elizabethan Court. Preparations are also being made surrounding Queen Elizabeth’s 25th anniversary of ascension to the English Throne. The ongoing plot to remove her and bring Catholicism back to England is afoot. The murders of two maids within the Court bring questions to the forefront and our sleuth, Bruno, out and on the lookout for whomever it may be that is behind these murders and plotting the ultimate coup, assassination of Elizabeth. While Bruno is still in England at the behest of the French Crown, his secret work for Sir Francis Walsingham will keep him well protected, but also a target as a traitor to the Catholic cause. While Bruno seeks a killer, he is also trying to get his hands on a most sought-after book that was long ago banned and might help mortals explain their true place in the spiritual world. Filled with great excitement and much history, Parris has done well to keep the reader interested until the very end. Recommended to those who enjoy Elizabethan mysteries, as well as the reader who found pleasure in the opening novel of the series and wishes to forge ahead.

While the book takes a while to get started, the dedicated reader is prized with an exciting second half of the novel. Parris has a clear and detailed style of writing that keeps the reader learning with every page turn. Giordano Bruno is again a wonderful protagonist, dabbling in all things celestial while proving to be the most unique historical sleuth. He continues to fight against the presumption that he is a supporter of the Catholic cause, but is equally not interested in the Protestant side of the debate (having been vilified and sought for punishment by both sides). His passions are clear, both in the academic and physical senses, though he struggles to make sense of everything throughout this second novel. As Parris sets some of the needed groundwork for the series, she creates a wonderful character who is not afraid of stirring up trouble for everyone. Other characters fill the narrative with their own points of view and keep the mystery strong while educating the reader with points of historical fancy. The story was quite well-paced, yet still a bit too detailed for my liking. Rich with history and religious clashes, as well as the politics that arises in both instances, there emerges something that is dense at times and overwhelming for some readers. With chapters of a decent length and a plot that evolves throughout, Parris does well with this second novel, as readers are still getting used to Giordano Bruno’s position in England. I am excited to see where things go from here, as the time period begs for more tales that mix religion and criminal activity.

Kudos, Madam Parris, for a great continuation to the series. I will have to focus in order not to miss anything, but am up for the challenge.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

Heresy (Giordano Bruno #1), by S.J. Parris

Seven stars

Always a fan of historical fiction, I decided to come back to the S.J. Parris series that I tried a few years ago. Parachuting into the middle of the religious wars across Europe and using late 16th century England as a setting, Parris creates quite the story that has many facets, sure to entertain the reader. Giordano Bruno was never the most conforming monk when he took his orders in Naples. He sought to educate himself and challenge the beliefs of his monastic order quite regularly. When he was caught with a controversial (and illegal) book one day, Bruno chose to flee rather than face the severe punishment. After spending years on the run from the Inquisition, Bruno was excommunicated and left to educate himself in some of Europe’s best universities. When Bruno makes his way to England, he is welcomed as somewhat of an outcast and invited by one of the close advisors of Queen Elizabeth to make his way to Oxford. With little to lose, Bruno begins the journey in the royal party and prepares to explore the clash between the celestial and religious aspects of the universe with a well-established priest. During all this, Bruno comes upon an event that can only be murder, though the local authorities are baffled about it. A curious investigator with an interest in solving cases, Bruno begins to look into events, as more men soon find themselves dead. Bruno is eventually formally invited to help solve the cases, all of which eventually have a common theme. While trying to probe a little deeper, Bruno’s papist past could come back to haunt him in England, even as he tries to explain that he no longer has ties to the Roman Church. With a killer on the loose and Bruno’s own safety in question, no one can be sure what will happen or whose blood will be shed. An interesting tale that opens this series with a bang and keeps things moving effectively throughout. Recommended to those who love a good historical mystery, as well as the reader who enjoys exploration of the religious situation in 16th century England.

This is one of those books that will take some dedication and attention to detail in order to properly enjoy its premise. Parris writes clearly and very well, though there is so much going on and woven into the narrative that tuning out could mean disaster for the reader. Giordano Bruno proves to be a wonderful protagonist, with a great deal of backstory. His flight from his monastery offers an interesting story arc that can be followed, but it is his mysterious arrival in England and passion for challenging authority that will keep Bruno’s character one that the reader will enjoy. As Parris sets some of the needed groundwork for the series, she creates a wonderful character who is not afraid of rocking the proverbial boat. Other characters to just as well to keep the reader guessing, as they fill the narrative with their own points of view and keep the mystery strong. The story was quite well-paced, if perhaps a bit too detailed for my liking. I took the audiobook approach and was welcomed with the soothing voice of John Lee to guide me along. The story is rich with history and religious clashes, both of which creates something that is dense at times and overwhelming for some readers. With chapters of a decent length and a plot that evolves throughout, Parris does well with this piece and introduces some needed backstory that will surely play a role in coming novels. Bruno’s position will surely be questioned throughout by the English, but his attention to detail when it comes to mysteries is sure to be something the reader can enjoy. I am eager to see where things go from here, as the time period begs for more tales that mix religion and criminal activity.

Kudos, Madam Parris, for a great start to the series. I am eager to see where things are going and will try to keep focussed enough to enjoy the rest of these books.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

The Secret Dead (Giordano #0.5), by S.J. Parris

Eight stars

Looking to binge read S.J. Parris’ intense Giordano Bruno series, I thought it best to begin with this short story prequel, which appears to lay the groundwork for much of what is to come. 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. An interesting piece to launch the series and I am intrigued to see where things will go from here. Recommended to those who enjoy mysteries of another era, as well as the reader who has discovered the Giordano Bruno series or wants something along these lines.

I remember reading a few of the novels in this series by S.J,. Parris years ago and being quite interested, though I felt them a little heavy. This opening salvo, for lack of. better word, is still light enough that I was able to get it finished in a single sitting and not feel too overwhelmed. Bruno is still young here, trying to come into his own and I think some of the backstory offered up will help as the series progresses. Parris surely introduces that spark that will lead to many an adventure, layering it beneath the rules and regulations that come with living as a monk. The handful of characters who become a part of the story all have their place and Parris may lay some breadcrumbs to help the reader better understand relationships in the larger series, though I have to read those full novels to make the proper connections. The story moved along well and held my attention throughout. I am eager to see how Bruno and others will handle larger mysteries and whether events of the day (in history more than simply daily events) play into the stories to add another depth to them. With this ‘housekeeping’ done, it’s time to tackle the full novels, so let’s get to it!

Kudos, Madam Parris, for an interesting start to the series. I cannot wait to see what else you have in store for your readers and this series.

This book fulfils Topic #2: Brief in the Equinox #11 Reading Challenge.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons