BookBrowse Reviews The Brotherhood of Book Hunters by Raphael Jerusalmy

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The Brotherhood of Book Hunters

by Raphael Jerusalmy

The Brotherhood of Book Hunters by Raphael Jerusalmy X
The Brotherhood of Book Hunters by Raphael Jerusalmy
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  • First Published:
    Nov 2014, 256 pages
    Paperback:
    Nov 2014, 256 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Davida Chazan
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The poet Francois Villon has been condemned to death by Louis XI. What will he have to do to survive?

The Parisian François Villon is the best known French poet of the late Middle Ages, also famous for being a thief. In 1463, a year after being arrested and sentenced to death he was released and forced into exile. After that, no one seems to know what happened to him. Author Raphaël Jerusalmy takes this sketchy information and builds a story for Villon involving King Louis XI's wish to undermine the Papacy of Rome, in order to move the center of Christendom to France, by using the many members (both secret and known) of his fictitious Brotherhood of Book Hunters.

This Brotherhood includes powerful people such as the Medici family, as well as lowly booksellers, printers and a wide network of Jewish and Christian theologians and their students, who have been collecting books and manuscripts from across the known world. Villon joins this gang in exchange for his freedom. Together with his good friend, and fellow criminal cum bodyguard, Colin de Cayeux, the scheme takes them both away from their beloved Paris, as far as the Holy Land. Their task is to find and bring back the writings that best deny or defy Catholic doctrine, for mass publication and distribution.

Of course, this is medieval times and the Catholic Church is well adept in rooting out heretics, and not afraid to employ torture against nonconformists in their inquisitions. Against this backdrop, combined with all the political and ecumenical power struggles of the time, Villon and Colin enter a world filled with even more intrigue and danger than they'd ever experienced in their heretofore criminal lives. This leaves the door wide open for the author to usher in no small amount of plot twists, which is just what you would expect from a rousing adventure story. And this is just what we get - an adventure.

Villon and Colin encounter a slew of characters, both menacing and warm as well as obliging and deceptive. Their travels across the Holy Land bring them to vistas as varied as their companions. Furthermore, whether they're crossing stark deserts or lush fields, entering abandoned outposts or scurrying along populated city streets, their mission seems to shift almost as much as the scenery. All of this is somewhat confusing at times, especially after Colin travels back to Europe with their cache, leaving Villon behind and splitting the novel's focus. Consequently, readers need to pay close attention to understand what is going on and where, since Jerusalmy doesn't give any explanatory chapter headings.

Jerusalmy also doesn't include a whole lot of dialogue. Instead, he recounts the conversations much as we would do when talking to a third party. He uses this device to allow us into the hearts and minds of his characters, which adds to their humanity, making them all the more sympathetic to the reader. Adding to this is the talent of his translator, whose careful choice of words instills the text with an archaic feel that perfectly matches the story's timeline.

In short, The Brotherhood of Book Hunters is one wild and ancient ride - emotionally, physically and literarily. I did find the characters hard to keep track of at times, and the many twists and schemes did get somewhat confusing. Aside from that, this is a beautifully written novel and a truly compelling read. I'd certainly recommend it to anyone who likes historical fiction with a good quest (religious or otherwise) and doesn't mind some poetry thrown in for good measure.

Reviewed by Davida Chazan

This review is from the January 21, 2015 issue of BookBrowse Recommends. Click here to go to this issue.

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