Monday, January 28, 2013

'At what point this night I became afraid, I'm not quite sure. To a scholar, fear arrives with a certain shame, akin to the same a soldier feels, holding himself back from the heat of the fray as his comrades are cut down before him.
  Not that I'd know. Unlike Dudley, I've never been a soldier, the kind of knowledge I hold having preserved me from bodily conflict. A bargain with the Crown which decrees I must stride out, wearing knowledge like armour, the questing mind thrust forward like to a sharpened blade.' Phil Rickman, The Heresy of Dr Dee

I totally suck. It wasn't until I finished this novel that I realised that it was part of a series, haha! But to be honest, whilst reading it, there were not moments that I felt I was lost because it was necessary that I read previous books to follow the plot. That was a pleasant surprise.

So, pedal to the metal. This is about the very intriguing historical character Dr John Dee. It's right around the time that the death/murder/assassination/accident/suicide of Robert Dudley's (Queen Bess' favourite) wife Amy transpires (check out Wikipedia if you don't know anything about tiny bit of history). Dr Dee is looking desperately for a scrying stone, because, he kinda told the queen that he had one. Although he is a natural philosopher, mathematician and other very smart things, he's suddenly taken a very firm interest in the occult and wants to study such things from a scientific view point. So, Roberty Dudley (who just cannot be seen in court because everybody thinks he killed his wife) and Dr Dee, decide to go on an adventure to Wales to see if they can get hold of one of those fanciful stones. They become entangled in a high-profile court case, Dr Dee meets a strange boy who can sniff out human bones from the ground, and all the while there's a very odd, very violent, potentially possessed criminal cursing everybody. This is a murder mystery played out in a maze, almost. It's all very... obscure. 

There was some beautiful pieces of prose in this book, and some parts were quite haunting. But to be honest I found myself drifting at times, and not really able to focus on it for long periods. It's not that it was boring. It's just that it sometimes got a little distracted... and there are SO many characters that you may meet once... and then not again till so far in that you kind of forget who they are.

I think that having background knowledge of the period and of Elizabethan life was imperative to enjoying this book, and bringing colour to the novel. Without knowledge of the time period, or even characters in the court during that time, I think the narrative would have been a little flat. It was my previous knowledge that filled out details that Rickman left out. 

Part of what I really enjoyed about this book was that the majority of it was set in Wales. This was excellent as Wales is really quite easily forgotten when looking at British history, and so to have a book based in the Elizabethan period and not only acknowledging that Wales exists... but sets it during that time is awesome. I thought that was so refreshing and had a feeling of novelty. 

Phil Rickman did a great job of characterising the main personalities, and I did enjoy them greatly. I very much loved the enigmatic Robert Dudley, and even took a shine to Dr Dee himself (although he can be a little... whiny). Unfortunately it was the author's tendency to go off topic regularly that just put me off and at times made me lose my way. 
Overall - yes, it's a good read if you enjoy historical fiction and if you've previously read any other Dr Dee books. If you're a fan of Elizabethan Britain then I'd recommend it too. It's a mystery, semi-supernatural, historical kind-of novel, but worth reading. 

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