I was very excited to have this book be delivered to me via my fellow hoarder Elizabeth….it had all the makings of a must-read for me: historical fiction, mystery, University setting, all tossed in with Catholicism and plots to overthrow England’s Queen Elizabeth. How could you go wrong here?
In the end I decided to rate it 3.5 stars, because I did really enjoy it, a great deal, but found it dragged in some parts…the beginning started out strong with details about burning heretics at the stake, Bruno’s narrow escape from the Inquistion, but then I found it really dragged toward the middle and didn’t have the “on the edge-of-your-seat-page-burning” parts around there that I thought it might/should have. I also thought Parris held out on an important part of the “puzzle” I suppose, until the very end. I thought that perhaps if Parris had put that more towards the beginning-middle it would have given it that needed information/tension as to why they needed to banish the Catholics from England (It involves a letter from Pope Pious). Because for me, without this piece of added info, the whole Catholic vs. England thing didn’t really resound so terrifyingly for me. Sure, they had to practice their faith in secret and Bruno was sent to inform on anyone secretly practicing Catholicism but it just didn’t have that edgy terror or “under the cover of darkness” intensity it might have had. For it seemed as though the secret Catholics were being punished just for practicing their faith that had been outlawed by the Queen. It seemed that by holding out the contents of the “secret papers” and “secret letters” until the ending, the whole political climate and “evil” plot against Elizabeth didn’t really come through as well as it may have if this information was given more towards the beginning.
Now, once you got in to the final chapters well! well! yes, you were on the edge of your seat and once again I found myself shaking my head (much, much harder at this one) about the utter cruelty and severe brutality humans inflict upon one another. And this torture, brutal torture, upon each other all due to their religion is just disturbing to read.
I’m going to include some parts of the book that really stayed with me:
“A stillness descended on us, an audible intake of breath as the door began to open and I felt in that small room, as I had not for many years, a tiny shiver along my spine at the old magic of the Mass. These people among whom I stood, disguised, truly believed that they were in the presence of a holy mystery, believed it with a pure faith that I had long forgotten, and it was this, I thought, that a man like Walsingham could not hope to understand. It was the belief in this miracle that would draw them back time after time, despite the threats of death and punishment, defiantly to keep this flame alive, and the honesty of their faith was a little humbling.”
“Jerome was being held up while the executioner climbed into the cart and fastened the noose about his neck before attaching it to the crossbeam and checking it was secure. I realised that the two men were still standing either side of him because he could not support himself, and my jaw clenched tight; he must have been racked so severely that his legs were beyond use. “What have they done to his hands?” I whispered to Sidney, indicating the mass of congealed blood as Jerome lifted a handly feebly to try and push his matted hair from his face. “Torn out his fingernails,” Sidney said, his voice tight, and I could not read anything beneath his outward composure.” (pg. 428)
“Jerome Gilbert, Jesuit,” he declaimed in a clear voice that carried across the silent crowd, “you have been found guilty on four counts of murder and of seducing people away from the queen’s allegiance, of plotting with others in Rheims and Rome to assasinate the queen, and of being privy to plans of foreign invasion…” (pg. 428)
“As a convicted traitor, your sentence is clear. You are to be hanged by the neck and let down alive; your privy parts cut off, for you are unfit to leave any generation after you; your entrails to be taken out and burned in your sight; your head, which imagined this mischief, to be cut off; and your body divided in four parts, to be disposed of by Her Majesty’s pleasure. And may God have mercy on your soul.” (pg. 429)
Now, as we know, this was a great spectator event back in the day…people would gather and cheer. Here is one other part about these events I want to include:
“It is important that the people are reminded of that often, or we shall only make more martyrs. If they believe that these Jesuits are willing to murder for their faith, it helps our cause immeasurably.” “This is principally a war of loyalties. We must persuade the people that their allegiance is best placed with us, by whatever means we can fashion. You saw their response today, did you not? Usually when the head is struck off, a great cry goes up from the crowd of “Traitor! Traitor!” for they have their sport. But with this Gilbert they witnessed it in complete silence, and that must be a serious cause for concern for the Privy Council. It means the crowd did not approve of what was done today, they found it too barbaric. One more like that and they will turn against us.” “It is a brutal way to die,” I agreed. Walsingham rounded on me, his face agitated. “Worse then the burnings and massacres they inflict on us Protestants?” (pg.. 432)
“If any good had come from the bloody events I witnessed in Oxford, it had been to convince me that, now more than ever, Christendom desperately needed a new philosophy, one that would draw us together as we passed from the shadows of religious wars into the enlightenment of our shared humanity and shared divinity…I would also impress upon her that it was not too late to hope for a better world.” (pg. 435) (July 1583)