It is 1560, and Elizabeth Tudor has been on the throne for a year. Dr John Dee is her astrologer and consultant in the hidden arts…a controversial appointment in these days of superstition. Now the bookish Dee has been sent to Glastonbury to find the missing bones of King Arthur. With him is his Robert Dudley, a wild card…and possibly the Queen’s secret lover. The town is still mourning the gruesome execution of its abbot, Richard Whiting. But why was he killed?
What is the secret held by the monks since the abbey was founded? The mission takes Dee to the tangled roots of English magic, into unexpected violence, necromantic darkness…and the cold heart of a complex plot against Elizabeth.
©2010 Phil Rickman (P)2010 Isis Publishing Ltd
I knew Phil Rickman from his Merrily Watkins mystery series. However, this is a complete departure from his earlier work.
This incredibly well researched piece of fiction casts the historical figure of Dr. John Dee as a slightly misanthropic, bookish man tasked with the impossible task of finding the bones of King Arthur.
The prose is really very beautiful. Rickman has cleverly addressed the issue of 'voice' and tone' in his 16th Century protagonist by adopting a blend of Elizabethan syntax and popular turns of phrase while still delivering an accessible and intimate narrative.
Like most of Rickman's novels, this one allows the story to straddle the grey zone between oddity and the the supernatural. It's so refreshing to read a writer who leaves his texts so open like this, when most fiction writers seem obsessed to tie every little mystery up.
If you like historical detective fiction, especially featuring real figures, and you like bit of a spine tingle, you'll enjoy this audiobook.
The narration by Seán Barrett is flawless. He does great regional accents, which added to the sense of place in the story.
Queen Elizabeth has recently been crowned, and she's anxious to get help anywhere she can. That means sending a faithful scholar into the hinterlands to locate and retrieve the bones of King Arthur. This is a unique and clever story. The characters are well developed, and for the most part use language that gave a touch of the past without hindering the story. And Sean Barrett's narration was, as always, brilliant.
The sibilance of the reader's S and Z consonants was painfully loud in comparison to the rest of his vocal production. I also felt that the reader did not make clear enough variation in his intonation for individual characters.
I loved the telling of this little-known historical persona (John Dee) as he interacts with his well-known contemporaries (Elizabeth I, Dudley etc), as well as the whole alchemy-magick-"the hidden" stuff. HOWEVER I got very sick of the protagonist's self deprecation and cowardly nature. Granted, the author has clearly done amazing research into the historical figure, and is likely endeavoring to provide an accurate characterization based on the narrative of Dee's actual publications, but it hinders the otherwise compelling concept behind the novel.
Someone with a voice that matches the age of the Dee in the novel (around 33 I believe), and Dudley, who is a prominent secondary character, in his mid-twenties, and supposed to be a smooth-talking pampered courtier - not a gravelly-voiced good ole' boy.
Honestly, I couldn't even follow the story because listening to the narrator was to hard. The plodding, monotonous, tone and the slow pace just killed it for me. Sorry Mr. Rickman, I have to give it a 2 star because I just couldn't do it.
The narrators voice is excellent but its the content that does not inspire, I have made this a book to listen to if I wish to get to sleep as it really is boring. Though narrated with a lovely voice.
"Not a laugh a minute romp"
Woah, that was hard work, its a grim hard joyless book. Not a bad book, well written and well read but just so grim and moody...I like Phil Rickman and his work does tend to be slow burning and downbeat but this was a bit much for me..if you have not read him yet start with Wine of Angels its very Rickman but a bit more balanced.
"Not for me"
I am sure this book will appeal to many (the plot is VERY clever), but it was too steeped in mysticism and philosophy for me. Too many endless conversations with people who refuse to give straight answers, and the usually excellent Sean Barrett gives a strangely soporific performance.
"Intricate story with convincing Elizabethan feel"
I really enjoyed the complex story with its blend of mysticism, religion and politics. Phil Rickman is very good at recreating the atmosphere of Elizabethan England still unsettled from the the break with Rome. Putting the semi-legendary Dr Dee in the middle of the Glastonbury for what is, effectively, a murder mystery is a splendid conceit.
The historical characters and events are familiar to me and jRickman's interpretation of them is ingenious. Not sure how easy it would be to follow if you don't have a basic grasp of the period.
Sean Barrett is a great reader who handles the accents very well and manages to clearly differentiate between characters. His tone is just right for the story.
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