Harper Collins| 2011| 448p| Library book| 4*
Prophecy by S J Parris (a pseudonym of Stephanie Merritt) is the second book in her Giordano Bruno series of historical thrillers. Giordano Bruno was a 16th century heretic philosopher and spy. On her website Stephanie Merritt has written about how she first discovered him. Her version of Bruno is a fictional creation, though many of the situations he encounters are based on historical fact.
Bruno started out as a Dominican friar in Naples, but fled his order to escape the Inquisition, went on the run through Italy, found work as an itinerant teacher and within three years had ended up in Paris as personal tutor to the King of France. By 1583 he was in England, working for the Queen Elizabeth I’s spymaster Sir Francis Walsingham.
Prophecy begins in the autumn of 1583, when Elizabeth’s throne is in peril, threatened by Mary Stuart’s supporters scheme to usurp the rightful monarch. I wrote about the opening of the book together with an extract from page 56 in this post. After a young maid of honour is murdered, with occult symbols carved into her flesh, Bruno is assigned to infiltrate the plotters and secure the evidence that will condemn them to death.
I think this description on the Fantastic Fiction website summarises the book very well:
It is the year of the Great Conjunction, when the two most powerful planets, Jupiter and Saturn, align – an astrological phenomenon that occurs once every thousand years and heralds the death of one age and the dawn of another. The streets of London are abuzz with predictions of horrific events to come, possibly even the death of Queen Elizabeth.
When several of the queen’s maids of honor are found dead, rumors of black magic abound. Elizabeth calls upon her personal astrologer, John Dee, and Giordano Bruno to solve the crimes. While Dee turns to a mysterious medium claiming knowledge of the murders, Bruno fears that something far more sinister is at work. But even as the climate of fear at the palace intensifies, the queen refuses to believe that the killer could be someone within her own court.
Bruno must play a dangerous game: can he allow the plot to progress far enough to give the queen the proof she needs without putting her, England, or his own life in danger?
In this utterly gripping and gorgeously written novel, S. J. Parris has proven herself the new master of the historical thriller.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I felt I was back there in 1583, in the thick of the intrigue and danger that characterised the period. I loved all the details of the court life and the interaction between the various factions, with rivalry between Catholics and Protestants, whilst the involvement of Dr John Dee intrigued me. Bruno, himself, fascinated me and now I want to know more about him and also about Stephanie Merrick’s books as well as those written under her pen name, S J Parris.