Historical fiction is one of my favorite genres, although there hasn’t been much time to fit many of the books of this genre or any other in my schedule lately. A Burnable Book by Bruce Holsinger is definitely worth making time for and it is difficult for me to believe that this is a debut novel. The story is well told.
The story begins with a young woman’s murder on the moorfields. Just before the young woman is attacked, she hands a book over to a maudlyn (a prostitute). Thus begins Holsinger’s wonderful weaving of the lives of the low-born and the high-born in London, 1385.
King Richard II is surrounded by ruthless courtiers–including his powerful uncle, John of Gaunt, and Gaunt’s artful mistress, Katherine Swynford. Across London, songs are heard from an ancient book that prophesies the end of England’s kings, with the final prophesy being young King Richard’s assassination. Only a few powerful men know that the cryptic lines derive from a “burnable book,” a seditious work that threatens the stability of the realm. To find the manuscript, wily bureaucrat Geoffrey Chaucer turns to fellow poet John Gower, a professional trader in information with connections high and low. Gower discovers that the book and incriminating evidence about its author have fallen into the unwitting hands of innocents, who will be drawn into a conspiracy that reaches from the king’s court to London’s slums and stews–and potentially implicates his own son. As the intrigue deepens, it becomes clear that Gower, a man with secrets of his own, may be the last hope to the king (William Morrow, 2014).
Bruce Holsinger, a medieval scholar, has written a wonderful first novel that seems to place you directly in London centuries ago (the book left me feeling a little nostalgic for the pace of life in 1385 London). You should definitely turn to the back of the book before beginning and read Mr. Holsinger’s notes and familiarize yourself with the cast of characters. It is a little tricky to sort everyone and every place at the beginning, but keep going. A Burnable Book is a fabulous read. Now to add Ian Mortimer’s book Time Traveller’s Guide to Medieval England to the “to-read” list. The early life and customs of England can be quite fascinating!
Book Details: Published by William Morrow (February18, 2014), 464 pages, ISBN: 0062240323.