Catholics, Protestants, faeries, torture and love during the reign of Elizabeth I.
Elizabeth, superstitious and chary of a prediction promising disaster unless she can find and bring King Arthur’s bones to a glorious resting place, sends Robert Dudley, Master of the Horse (and perhaps her lover), and Dr. John Dee, scholar and astronomer, off to Glastonbury, purportedly the site of Arthur’s burial place, although his bones disappeared when Cromwell had the abbey destroyed. Traveling incognito as the Queen’s Commission on Antiquities, Dudley is felled by fever, and Dr. Dee runs afoul of Sir Edmund Fyche, who through lies and treachery oversaw the execution of herbalist Cate Borrow, and now seems determined to have her daughter Eleanor hanged as a witch. The lives of both women were entwined with the work of mad geographer John Leland, whose lost writings about a terrestrial Zodiac may hold the key to Arthur’s burial place. But Dr. Dee’s obsession with saving Eleanor and the quest for those bones is stymied not only by the usual Francophiles seething with distaste for Elizabeth but also by Benlow the Bone-Man, who sells fake relics; Fyche’s cruel son Stephen, who thrills in maiming his adversaries; Joan Tyrre and the faerie folk gathering on the Tor; and anthrax, the fatal wool-sorter’s disease. While contending with demons both mystical and real, Dr. Dee uncovers a plot masterminded by the seer Nostradame to turn Elizabeth’s heritage and gullibility against her.
Rickman, who’s wending his way through Welsh history, myth and mores (the Merrily Watkins series), revisits many of the real-life characters he wrote of in The Chalice (1997, etc.) with admirable scholarship and verve, making a John Dee sequel something to look forward to.