It's 1560, and rumour shrouds the death of the one woman who stands between Lord Robert Dudley and marriage to the young Queen Elizabeth. Did Dudley's wife, Amy, die from an accidental fall? Or was it murder? Even Dr John Dee is uncertain. Then a rash promise to the Queen sends him to his family's old home on the Welsh Border in pursuit of a crystal credited with supernatural properties.
With Dee goes Robert Dudley. They travel with the entourage of a judge sent to try a Welsh brigand with a legacy dating back to the Battle of Brynglas. After the battle, many bodies were, according to legend, obscenely mutilated. Now another dead man has been found, similarly slashed.…
©2012 Phil Rickman (P)2013 Isis Publishing Ltd
While the story of a search for a scrying stone was of interest, the portrayal of Dee as a bungling, incompetent idiot made it extremely difficult to enjoy. Even the title is misleading -- while Dee was historically accused of heresy, the most that occurs are some references to this.
A much stronger story would have been a straightforward search by Dee into if a scrying stone worked and his efforts to obtain one. The side story of Dudley, his wife's death and Queen Elizabeth was only distracting. That a man of known intellect and education might search for the truth behind visions, foreseeing and other occult matters is a story that that still holds sway today. Instead, the search for the stone isn't a real quest, it's simply a bungling effort to avoid Cecil and Q. Elizabeth. The issue of "did Dudley kill his wife" is another mystery that would have been interesting, but at the end, a simple "the Spanish and Cecil did it" is provided with no effort at all by the protagonists. The relationship between Dudley and Elizabeth is assumed to be one of great passion-- yet no discussion is made of the historical question regarding Dudley's ambition and Elizabeth's reluctance to marry and lose her power.
The story is a narrative by Dee so that differentiation is not extensively required. The other characters are reasonably portrayed, but sometimes Barrett changes Dee's tone and manner of speaking with no particular good reason.
No, unless the basic story were severely rewritten.
A disappointing historical fiction even though it is largely based on actual known facts about Dee (he did search for the unknown, he was a well known scholar, he did work for Queen Elizabeth.).
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