Tuesday, December 2, 2014

The Heretic by Henry Vyner-Brooks

About the book:
In 1536 it seems the entire known world is changing--strange new lands are discovered and the Reformation is challenging Rome and its power. In England the king's declaration of a new church and dissolution of the monasteries overturns the customs and authorities of centuries. In the new world order, spies abound and no one can be trusted.

To Brother Pacificus of the Abbey of St. Benet's in Norfolk, it looks like his abbey alone will be spared dissolution. But this last Benedictine house is mired in murder and intrigue. Then when Pacificus falls under suspicion, more than his own dark past comes to light, while the body count keeps rising. Pacificus's fate becomes entwined with that of three local children after their parents are arrested for treason and heresy. Protected only by this errant monk, a mysterious leper, and a Dutch eel-catcher, the children must quickly adjust; seeking their own identity, they soon find that neither parents nor protectors are quite what they seem.

Based on historical events, this post-medieval mystery is laced with romance, fueled by greed, and punctuated with bouts of feasting, smuggling, and jailbreak.

My review:
This is a long book, weighing in at over 600 pages. It covers a few years in a time when Christianity in England was changing. King Henry VIII had forsaken the Catholic Church because he wanted to marry Jane Seymour.

But you may not have realized that from reading the book. The book takes off running and I have to admit, I was a bit lost. I finally did a little research to find out what was happening in England in 1536. I really missed an Historical Note, either at the front or back. The promotion says the book is based on real people and real events, but we are not told who or what they are. People like Cromwell and King Henry make an appearance but what about the other scores of characters? Are some of them historical characters? What about the relics of Saint Helen? Are they real? (This book is from England so readers there undoubtedly know their own history and major characters.)

Perhaps because of a lack of historical background, I found the sub-plots very confusing. There were more monks and places than I could keep straight. At times I almost felt like I was reading a sequel, the earlier adventures of Pacificus being the possible first book. His early history had much to do with his behavior in this book and I would have liked Pacificus better if I'd known more about him early on.

Perhaps what I did not like most about the book was it being written in present tense. That is just hard to read, especially in an historical novel. I found the first half of the novel tedious going. The second half was better as there was more action going on. I would not call the book a page-turner, however.

All that being said, this is an interesting novel. It certainly gives the atmosphere of the day. There are conniving priests, monks and bishops. People try to gain the King's approval by changing their beliefs to match his. People will kill for relics. Having an English copy of the Bible is punishable by death. And we do see a few executions which are not pretty.

If you like a long historical novel with many characters and many sub-plots, you will like this book. If you like reading about events that happened hundreds of years ago in the present tense, you'll like the book. And, if you do a little historical research to get some back ground before you start, you will like the book even more.

Henry Vyner-Brooks has had a diverse career as landscape architect, property developer, and pastor. He was struck with cancer in 2006 and began writing this novel on the day of his surgery. He currently manages a large estate, is an assistant pastor, and is conducting research for a prequel. He and his wife live in Cumbria.

Lion Fiction (distributed in the U. S. by Kregel), 603 pages.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Kregel for the purpose of an independent and honest review.

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