Saturday, February 22, 2014

A Burnable Book by Bruce Holsinger

London, 1385.  Surrounded by ruthless courtiers-including his powerful uncle, John of Gaunt,and Gaunt's flamboyant mistress, Katherine Swynford-England's young and untested new king Richard II, is in mortal peril, and the danger is only beginning.
Songs are heard across London-catchy verses aid to originate from an ancient book that supposedly prophesies the ends of England's kings-and among the book's predictions is the assassination of Richard.  Few besides the monarch's allies know that the 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 hand of innocents, who will be drawn into a labyrinthine 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 save a king from a terrible fate.  (taken from the back of the book)
I'm not proud of it, but for the first hour I was reading, a little voice in my head was chanting 'it's definitely a burnable book.'  I'm a huge fan of classics and the classical style of writing.  I grew up on Dante and Tolstoy.  So, it wasn't just the matter of the more classical style of writing that bothered me in the beginning.  Honestly, I was bored.  We start out with this tasty little morsel that begs you to dive in for more, and then we get boring politics and background stories and all of these wonderful people that I just really don't care about.  I.  Was.  Bored.
I didn't give up!  I kept plugging away and I found I was enjoying myself.  It's sort of like wading into the ocean.  You start by sticking your toes in and urge yourself out a little further and further until you suddenly find yourself happily swimming with the sharks.  It sort of sneaks up on you.  I'm glad I stuck it out with this one.  Once I was able to get past the beginning of stage setting and all of these horrible, wretched people I didn't know or like, I was able to sit back and relax.  I found myself running along the dirty streets of London with a bunch of swervers and having a grand old time.  I even fell in love with Chaucer again. 
This book is NOT light reading.  Do not pick this up for a day at the beach or to while away a few minutes while waiting for the kids to get out of school.  I strongly urge you to read it, especially if you're the scholarly sort, but make sure that you plan to dedicate time and energy to read this one.  It takes a little bit to get into it, but it's worth it.  You just sort of feel yourself slipping into it.  Also, if you have a taste for the medieval, you'll find everything accurate and probably even learn quite a bit.
Reviewed for Minding Spot 

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