For once a novel without a sequel. This is exciting.
Customary warning: This is a reminder that these are my personal opinions. My thoughts and feelings are not your thoughts and feelings. I may not always be the target audience for a book; sometimes I am. If I do not like a book, that doesn’t mean you’ll dislike it. If I love a book or simply like a book, you may hate it. Take everything I say with this knowledge. If it sounds interesting to you despite what I’ve said, then go ahead and read it. You’ll only know you like something if you read it yourself.
That being said… Spoilers ahead.
A Burnable Book by Bruce Holsinger
Synopsis From The Book
London, 1385. Surrounded by ruthless courtiers–including his powerful uncle, John of Gaunt, and Gaunt’s artful mistress, Katherine Swynford–England’s young, still untested king, Richard II, is in mortal peril, and the danger is only beginning. Songs are heard across London–catchy verses said to originate from an ancient book that prophesies the end of England’s kings–and among the book’s predictions is Richard’s assassination. Only a few powerful men know that the cryptic lines derive from a “burnable book,” a seditious work that threatens the stability of the realm. To find the manuscript, wily bureaucrat Geoffrey Chaucer turns to fellow poet John Gower, a professional trader in information with connections high and low. Gower discovers that the book and incriminating evidence about its author have fallen into the unwitting hands of innocents, who will be drawn into a labyrinthine conspiracy that reaches from the king’s court to London’s slums and stews–and potentially implicates his own son. As the intrigue deepens, it becomes clear that Gower, a man with secrets of his own, may be the last hope to save a king from a terrible fate.
Medieval scholar Bruce Holsinger draws on his vast knowledge of the period to add colorful, authentic detail–on everything from poetry and bookbinding to court intrigues and brothels–to this highly entertaining and brilliantly constructed epic literary mystery that brings medieval England gloriously to life.
Initial Thoughts Before Reading:
I’ve had this book sitting in my pile of “to read” for some months now. While I was on my trip across country I took it and The Lost Queen, letting myself sit on a historical fiction binge. This one is about Richard II. I have heard good things about this specific novel. It’s a single story without any sequels, which is a change of pace from my never ending reads of first books in a series where I don’t have the second. I like the idea of getting to read a completed story in one go. Hold on to your hopes for here we go!
Initial Thoughts After Reading:
To be honest, I was extremely tired while reading this book, and I feel that had I been awake while reading it, I would have liked it better. In general it was easy to follow.
The novel begins with John Gower getting a request to find a book. This book is later revealed to be a book containing prophecies about the 13 kings of England and their deaths. John goes searching.
Meanwhile the book has gotten into the hands of two woman who with to sell it. As John searches, we discover that the book was written as a test and partial joke from a suitor to a beautiful woman. Another man, and son of the MC got jealous, and stole the book, adding the 13th prophecy (about Richard) into the book where it did not exist. He did it to defame the original author (and one who asked John to find the book).
John stops two assassination attempts on the kings life, discovers the truth, and all is settled. There is murder, mystery, and intrigue as the story twists and turns.
What I Liked:
Concept; the idea of a murder plot from distant connections to Richard Ii was a great plot, as was the execution of it.
Use of prophecy; the fact that this book of prophecies gets revealed as we continue throug the plot is nice. It’s origins as a joke and then malicious plot to defame a person, and then a coverup for a bigger assassination plot was nice.
Use of complicated plots and the history; the plots link, overlap, and flow through each other. There are love plots and multiple stories that form into one at the end. I liked the use of plot and a world in this way.
Writing; the writing for this novel was beautiful. There is not much more I can say about it other than that it was beautiful.
Language; Throughout the novel we have multiple languages being spoken and I find that wonderful. The world isn’t just a singular language and with so many people crossing between countries within this novel it makes sense for them to speak more than just english.
What I Would Have Liked or Changed:
First vs third pov vs letter; my biggest(and really only) qualm about the novel was the perspectives. The main character, and poet, is told in first person. There is a a third person following woman who hold the book of prophecies for the novel. Then there are sections of letters and past stories written as a letter. The lack of consistency with perspective (first or third) bothered me.
Time Taken To Read
In truth I think I would score this a 4, had I been more awake when reading it. However it was not able to capture my attention wildly while I was sleepy. That says something about it, regardless.
“All kings must die.” – John’s thoughts.
Inglese italianizzato, diavolo incarnato (An Englishman italicized is the devil incarnate.) – Chaucer to John
“Hide your ledgers. Hide your thoughts. For knowledge is currency. It can be traded and it can be banked, and more secretely than money.” – John’s thoughts