Book Review: A Burnable Book by Bruce Holsinger

burnablebookA Burnable Book by Bruce Holsinger

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 confidant, 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…

An uncorrected proof sent to me by the lovely people at Harper Collins. Bruce’s website for the book can be found over here.
Told in multiple voices, including that of John Gower; the prostitute sisters Millicent and Agnes; and Agnes’ sometime co-worker Edgar, who has secrets and concerns of his own.

The book can be split into two parts: the first part with the book in question falling into the hands of Agnes and Millicent – who cant read it, but know enough to realise the danger it presents but not having the leverage to get rid of it, with Edgar having the likely contacts, but needing to get his hands on the book itself. Meanwhile, Gower has been tasked by his friend Geoffrey Chaucer to find the book, appreciating what a book predicting how the current King is going to die is a dangerous book in itself.
The second half of the book is where John Gower finds out just how many secrets have been withheld from him, and where he gets sucked deeper into the politics and manoeuvring of King Richard’s court. The race is then on to prevent the assassination of the King at the predicted time, and to flush out any further dangers facing the throne. Not all threats and intrigue comes from England, and it is the international connections that can prove the most dangerous.
There is a smallish cast, but it’s with the supporting characters – such as Lancaster and Oxford with their multiple names, and the fluid relationships that can prove confusing (A is married to B who is uncle to C, who is married to D but is having an affair with A) but the cast list at the front goes some way to helping.
The book manages to bring a version of London and Southwark alive, with even the seedy parts of town (on either side of the river) have their own rules and hierarchy – it’s a good reminder that many of the streets within London are named after what is found or done there, sometimes in explicit detail.

Overall a well written and enjoyable story about a period of time that can be rather neglected in the canon of Historical fiction


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