A stunning debut historical thriller set in the turbulent 14th century, for fans of C. J. Sansom, The Name of the Rose, and An Instance of the Fingerpost.
London, 1385: A city of shadows and fear, in a kingdom ruled by the headstrong young King Richard II, haunted by the spectre of revolt. A place of poetry and prophecy, where power is bought by blood. For John Gower, part-time poet and full-time trader in information, secrets are his currency. When close confidante and fellow poet Geoffrey Chaucer calls in an old debt, Gower cannot refuse.The request is simple: Track down a missing book.
It should be easy for a man of Gower's talents, who knows the back alleys of Southwark as intimately as the courts and palaces of Westminster. But what Gower does not know is that this book has already caused one murder, and that its contents could destroy his life. Because its words are behind the highest treason - a conspiracy to kill the king and reduce his reign to ashes.…
©2014 Bruce Holsinger (P)2014 HarperCollins Publishers Limited
“A murder, a verse and a whore; the prologue of Bruce Holsinger`s A Burnable Book draws the reader in and does not let go. A deep understanding of the period combines with sophisticated writing to create a richly imagined world. Excellent historical fiction.” (Harry Sidebottom, bestselling author of the Warrior of Rome series)”… a fascinating overview of pre-Renaissance London at its best and worst. A highly literate thriller from medievalist Holsinger.” (Kirkus Reviews)”Medieval England never tasted so rich nor smelled so foul as in this descriptive and intricately layered mystery. Holsinger is at his best describing the everyday lives and privations of the lower classes. He succeeds in elevating the missing manuscript genre to new heights that will entertain readers of both fiction and nonfiction.” (Library Journal)”Holsinger is…a fantastic historical novelist….This book has everything - Chaucer, cryptography, murder, Katherine Swynford, the Southwark stews, English royalty, prophecy. It's that rare thing: a well-written, historically accurate thriller.” (Historical Fiction Notebook)”Everything you want in a work of historical fiction: fascinating, rich in period detail, and propelled by a compulsively engaging story. Even better, it's clever and witty… a superb entertainment.” (David Liss, Edgar Award-winning author of A Conspiracy of Paper and The Twelfth Enchantment)
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"This is an odd one to review!"
Yes. This is (to my taste) a difficult book to get into. The writing style isn't CJ Sansom, Paul Dohery, Susanna Gregory, or like anyone else. BUT I persevered and by the time I was around half way through, I had got used to the language and the rhythm, and I found, to my surprise, I was hooked.
No one: John Gower is a user of peoples frailties and indiscretions for his own means. Chaucer is a womaniser and of no moral value. There is no one likeable in this book.
Again - No one. As I've said, its a strange book: there is no character I was firmly behind and that I wanted to prevail. There is no character I particularly wanted to have their comeuppance. They are all self serving and conniving, but perhaps that's a more accurate portrait of how people sometimes are.
Yes possibly: Gower has gone to the maudlin's brothel - wont spoil the book for future readers, but a maudlin is murdered by a Knight. He shows some compassion in that situation.
If this were on my kindle as a readable book, rather than an audio book, I would have sent it to "cloud" after a couple of chapters, never to be brought back again. I am glad it wasn't, because as I've said; its not an easy read/listen but it does all come together in a very clever way and on many occasions throughout, I did think "ah yes that makes sense" and the puzzle pieces fell into place. I am now just starting to listen to The invention of Fire, the second book, and as I am more familiar with the writing style, it flows better. A GREAT BIG FYI- if you listen to this via Sonos, or a docking station & have young children, or those of a nervous nature around, the terms repeatedly used for some of the locations are shocking and not for the feint hearted; once it goes on, you do get used to these terms, but to start with (cooking dinner with not so small son & with Sonos on - not good) be aware of who may also be listening!
"A tedious vanity project"
People who like historical fiction, but are very easily pleased. By chapter 12 I'd endured all I could of this self indulgent twaddle and returned it to Audible. I'm sorry to have to give it just 1 out of 5 but I couldn't find a single redeemable feature in those dozen chapters. If you like sublime historical novels such as 'Q' or 'Altai' by the Wu Ming/Luther Blisset collective or Umberto Eco then you'll hate this book. If you find Ellis Peters, Dan Brown or David Gibbins harmless then it's worth a look.
It would be easy to be too harsh on the narrator who tries manfully to cope with the challenges of this book's shortfalls, but he just doesn't have the tools. When you combine his ropey cockney with the absolutely mangled vernacular of the commoners it is just an irritating garble; his off-the-shelf approximations of Spanish and Italian 'accents' are no better, but the most irritating is the voice he uses for ALL noblemen and courtiers, which is EXACTLY like Peter Cook's Olivier-channelled Richard III from the first series of Black Adder, perhaps with a hint of Brian Blessed's random shoutiness.
It's interesting that this question mentions editor and scenes, because the book did feel more like a screenplay; it's very heavy on dialogue and the intervening stuff is perfunctory, being more like stage/set directions than descriptive prose. The specific scenes of this book are far from being its Achilles heal.
As other reviewers have noted, there are too many characters. In a print book you maybe stand a chance of keeping abreast of them all, but in an audiobook, especially with language as mangled and pretentious as this (see below), and with such a limited palate of accents from the narrator (see above), you have no chance - it's all just bewildering and you repeatedly glaze over and cease caring.
But the biggest problem lies with the fact that the author is an academic historian. You may think this would be an asset for a historical novel and you'd be right, if the academic knowledge and enthusiasm were used judiciously to enhance the narrative with some authentic atmosphere.David Milch, for example, who created the stunning TV show Deadwood shows how this balance can be successful, combining beautifully written Shakespearian soliliquies but suffused with effing and blinding. Why? Because if Deadwood had used the x-rated language of the period it would have sounded quaint and underpowered to our modern ears - being 'authentic' would have completely undermined the force of the narrative. To Milch, storytelling was more important than authenticity.
In this novel however, the author parades their geeky familiarity with the language of 14th century London, cramming into the dialogue as many references and slang as possible, which is utterly obtrusive and overwhelms and suffocates the narrative (the same goes for the descriptions of London which seem just too jarringly and consciously well-researched to disappear into the backdrop). It is a vanity project for the academic who lectures on historical fiction, and thus fails to entertain. Chaucer does not lend himself to writing page turning mysteries, and trying far too hard to emulate his style in writing a modern novel may appeal to Chaucer fans who will admire the author's skill in replicating it, but to the ordinary reader who wants to be entertained by a a good mystery, it simply kills it. Less is more, too much 'authenticity' is just incongruous.
When you combine this with the narrator, it makes the audiobook insufferable to listen to - it sounds like a cod Name of the Rose written by Stanley Unwin and narrated by John Sessions in maximum mugging mode.
"Fabulous and well researched"
A rollicking good read about a man we can empathise with. Characters are believable and you grow to like them. It's also interesting to cloak Chaucer with contemporaries and background, and it focuses on a period I'm really interested in. Having lived in Kent in a village with it's church dedicated to St Dunstan...and had a daughter who went to uni at Goldsmiths College - deep in the Southwark stews.. it's the right book for me, well written and narrated - I highly recommend it.
You can't get passed John Gower- very much like Mantel's Cromwell, but without the same extent of royal patronage. You can never get passed his history, or how he deals with his issues with sight and investigation. I'm going to miss him in my life now I've finished this and the following book.
This is a natural narrator. I like him telling me a story. -This is the right voice for the story - doesn't try too hard to put on different voices - in the same way your brain doesn't when you read a book yourself. The only reason I have returned books to Audible is that the narrator irritates me and this one really doesn't
it connected me to the history of places I know well. It didn't make me laugh or cry, but made me question what really is new, and haven't we carried our histories, assumptions, and behaviours down the centuries regardless of how the world has changed
"Not the best of its genre"
There's a fair amount of fiction set in this period nowadays. And quite enough of it shares some of this ones themes. Sadly, I found this not the best written nor the most believable. A pleasant enough listen but nothing great...
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