This follow-up to Heresy (2010), where Parris first introduced readers to Italian Giordano Bruno, shadows the former 16th-century monk, philosopher and author as he involves himself with deadly intrigues inside the court of England’s Queen Elizabeth.
It is the fall of 1583, and Bruno is celebrating his friend Sir Philip Sidney’s marriage to the young daughter of the powerful Francis Walsingham, when Walsingham is called to the palace to deal with a crisis. He invites Bruno to accompany him and when the two men arrive, they find one of the Queen’s young ladies in waiting has been murdered. Cecily Ashe has been found dead with an astrological sign carved into her breast and holding a small effigy that resembles the Queen. Walsingham and other members of the Queen’s inner circle believe the murder is a direct threat to Her Majesty. They suspect a Catholic plot to assassinate Elizabeth, but Walsingham is ahead of the curve: Bruno, who is living in the French embassy, is acting as a double agent on his behalf, reporting the schemes and plans of the Catholic faithful against the head of England’s government. Parris based both of her books on real-life historical figures, which include Bruno. She knows the period well, and her writing is reflective of that knowledge. Readers will hear the sounds of Elizabethan England, smell the Thames River, taste the food and feel the luxurious fabrics of the clothes worn by courtiers. Although she peppers the story with period details, the premise that both sides would willingly embrace a known heretic such as Bruno (especially the Catholics plotting the Queen’s demise) rings false. The Catholic plotters seem not to trust him, but continue to include him in their plans. It’s a flaw that good writing does not overcome. Additionally, Bruno is not that great as a double agent: Whenever he comes across crucial evidence, he withholds it, often with disastrous results.
Parris populates her tale with interesting characters and plenty of atmosphere but allows the story to ramble on until the reader grows weary of Bruno and his detective work.