Finished with Heresy

A few weeks back an update appeared on my facebook page announcing that I was reading heresy. This didn't surprise many people.
However, this was actually an automated post via goodreads marking the fact that I had begun reading "Heresy" by S.J. Parris. This had been recommended to me for my Kindle by Amazon probably because of my previous purchase of C.J. Sansom's "Shardlake" novels. There are similarities beyond the format of the authors' names. Both are historical detective stories set against the background of the not-so-merrie England of the reformation era. Sansom's novels are set in the reign of Henry VIII, while this one takes place against the background of the reign of Henry's second, Protestant, daughter, Elizabeth. Both weave their way through the politico-religious world of their day, but whilst there is a depth to the picture painted in Sansom's novels, this one really reads like Shardlake-lite. Even the central character, the excommunicate priest, philosopher, scientist Giordano Bruno, is slightly one-dimensional, despite being based upon a real true renaissance-man. Here is painted as a premature child of the Enlightenment... indeed almost as a prophet, if not patron saint of post-enlightenment scientific secularism, but this is both to raise Bruno to a position he would probably be unconfortable with and to do a disservice to the man, who seems to be a much more complex individual. There is some sense of this anachronistic secularist scepticism, if not atheism, in the character of Matthew Shardlake, but it is not so pronounced, and not all the religious characters are as irredeemably evil, self-seeking or simple-minded as seems to be the case in the world inhabited by Mr. Bruno. The years around the reformation were not exactly the time when Christianity showed itself in its finest light, especially not where the different factions allied themselves with political powers, but there must have been a few righteous believers. You would almost think that this was written by Richard Dawkins under a pseudonym.
I don't look to my leisure reading for "Christian" content, but I also don't particularly want unadulterated anti-Christian polemic. That, combined with the fact that the characters are not so well drawn, nor is the background as richly textured as in the Shardlake stories, and the story drags in places (before accelerating to breakneck speed in the final few chapters), although Sansom could also be accused of that at times, means that I won't be rushing to get the next one - though it might put the time in until another Shardlake story appears.


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