Summary and book reviews of Heresy by S.J. Parris

Heresy

by S.J. Parris

Heresy
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  • First Published:
    Feb 2010, 448 pages
    Paperback:
    Feb 2011, 448 pages

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Book Summary

Masterfully blending true events with fiction, this blockbuster historical thriller delivers a page-turning murder mystery set on the sixteenth-century Oxford University campus.

Giordano Bruno was a monk, poet, scientist, and magician on the run from the Roman Inquisition on charges of heresy for his belief that the Earth orbits the sun and that the universe is infinite. This alone could have got him burned at the stake, but he was also a student of occult philosophies and magic.

In S.J. Parris's gripping novel, Bruno's pursuit of this rare knowledge brings him to London, where he is unexpectedly recruited by Queen Elizabeth I and is sent undercover to Oxford University on the pretext of a royal visitation. Officially Bruno is to take part in a debate on the Copernican theory of the universe; unofficially, he is to find out whatever he can about a Catholic plot to overthrow the queen.

His mission is dramatically thrown off course by a series of grisly murders and a spirited and beautiful young woman. As Bruno begins to discover a pattern in these killings, he realizes that no one at Oxford is who he seems to be. Bruno must attempt to outwit a killer who appears obsessed with the boundary between truth and heresy.

Like The Dante Club and The Alienist, this clever, sophisticated, exceptionally enjoyable novel is written with the unstoppable narrative propulsion and stylistic flair of the very best historical thrillers.

P r o l o g u e
Monastery of San Domenico Maggiore, Naples
1576

The outer door was thrown open with a crash that resounded along the passage, and the floorboards shook with the purposeful marching of several pairs of feet. Inside the small cubicle where I perched on the edge of a wooden bench, taking care not to sit too close to the hole that opened over the cesspit beneath, my little candle flickered in the sudden draught of their entrance, sending wavering shadows growing and shrinking along the stone walls. Allora, I thought, looking up. They have come for me at last.

The footsteps halted outside the cubicle door, to be replaced by the furious hammering of a fist and the abbot’s throaty voice, strained beyond its usual placid tones of diplomacy.

“Fra Giordano! I order you to come out this instant, with whatever you hold in your hands in plain sight!”

I caught a snigger from one of the monks who accompanied him, swiftly followed by a stern...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. When Giordano Bruno is recruited as a spy by Sir Francis Walsingham, he hesitates. Walsingham tells him “whenever you feel the wrench between conscience and duty, your care should always be for the greater good.” Yet Bruno's conscience remains troubled throughout by the double life he has to lead. Does this make him a more appealing narrator? To what extent is a spy morally compromised by the fact that he must maintain a deception? Is Walsingham right—is the greater good always more important than individuals?


  2. Europe in the 1580s is divided by religious wars between Catholics and Protestants. Religious loyalty is often stronger than national or family ties. Walsingham tells Bruno that “faith and politics are now ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Fans of historical mysteries will be thrilled to discover this first installment in an anticipated series. 25 out of 26 BookBrowse readers rated Heresy 4 or 5 stars. Here's what they had to say:
I loved this book! I was pulled into the story immediately and fascinated with all the twists and turns as well as the historical detail. It's intricately plotted, but avoids becoming cumbersome with details (Jean T). The characters are very well-developed, the story is exciting, and the mystery is a winner (Donna N)! I highly recommend this book to fans of historical fiction and mysteries as well as those interested in English history (Chris G).   (Reviewed by BookBrowse First Impression Reviewers).

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Media Reviews

The Washington Post

The final showdown, like many other dramatic moments in the novel, recalls similar scenes in countless adventure novels; and Parris's dialogue - courtly one moment and modern the next - often seems unmoored from the novel's era... Nevertheless, Bruno commands our attention and our sympathy as any likable heretic should.

Kirkus Reviews

Spirited storytelling, an appealing sleuth and a cool, mutilated villain will lead readers to hope this is the launch of a series.

Library Journal

Parris's debut historical thriller shines a light on the religious turmoil of 16th-century England, when men swore an oath to one faith but practiced another. Narrator Bruno (based on the real-life philosopher) is lively and sympathetic, and dedicated readers will be wholly satisfied in the end.

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Parris interweaves historical fact with psychological insight as Bruno, a humanist dangerously ahead of his time, begins his quest to light the fire of enlightenment in Europe.

Author Blurb Conn Iggulden, New York Times bestselling author of The Dangerous Book for Boys and Bones of the Hills
Fascinating…The period is incredibly vivid and the story utterly gripping. Cadfael can't hold a candle to this

Author Blurb Matthew Pearl, New York Times bestselling author of The Dante Club and The Poe Shadow
Heresy is a must-read for every fan of historical thrillers. S. J. Parris transports the reader back to an extraordinary time in history by mobilizing fascinating details, suspense, and fully-drawn characters. Giordano Bruno turns out to be that rare hero, charismatic and nuanced enough to impel an encore, and to leave us asking for more from the gifted Parris.

Author Blurb Katherine Neville, New York Times bestselling author of The Eight and The Fire
The famous scientist, Giordano Bruno, erupts with volcanic force from the pages of S.J. Parris' spellbinding debut novel, Heresy. Blending the philosophical sleuthing skills of Brother Cadfael with the magic sorcery of Voldemort, Bruno cracks the secret code, unraveling a Church conspiracy as deep and dark as that in a Dan Brown novel.

Author Blurb Sam Bourne, New York Times bestselling author of The Righteous Men
Heresy is a riveting read. Rich in both historical detail and ingenious twists, S. J. Parris has created a character in Giordano Bruno that will endure. A true rival to C. J. Sansom.

Reader Reviews

Dolena W. (Dallas, TX)

Intriguing Work of Historical Fiction
I thoroughly enjoyed this book - from the beginning to the end. Right away I was captivated by the characters, the historical setting and the unfolding mysteries. The best historical fiction always makes me want more - more information about the ...   Read More

Chris G. (New Albany, Ohio)

"Heresy" by S. J. Parris
As someone with a degree in political science and history and who happens to be a fan of mysteries, I was immediately intrigued by S. J. Parris' novel "Heresy". The story blends fact and fiction as it revolves around Giordano Bruno, a monk with a...   Read More

Sandy P. (Gainesville, FL)

Bit of a slow start but don't give up....
Excellent historical fiction, very well researched. Many plot twists but logically linked and difficult to put down. Great character development and easy to keep track of who's related and the school hierarchy. Hard to think of that much religious...   Read More

Jean T. (Paducah, KY)

Heresy
I loved this book! I was pulled into the story immediately and fascinated with all the twists and turns as well as the historical detail. It was intricately plotted, but yet avoided becoming cumbersome with details. I was unable to predict the ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

Giordano Bruno

Giordano Bruno (1548-1600) was an Italian Dominican priest, philosopher, mathematician and astronomer. After studying for several years in Naples, he entered the Order of St. Dominic at the age of 15, and was ordained priest in 1572. He was known for his belief in the infinite nature of the universe, identifying the Earth's sun as just one of an infinite number of stars and heavenly bodies, and asserting that God had no particular relation to Earth over any other part of the universe. He was charged with heresy in 1576 for his views and outspoken criticism of theological doctrines. From then on he wandered from country to country, facing persecution in each place until he was finally delivered to the Inquisition in 1592. The numerous ...

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