The Elizabethan world is in flux. Radical new ideas are challenging the old. But the quest for knowledge can lead down dangerous paths…
London, 1594. The Queen’s physician has been executed for treason, and conspiracy theories flood the streets. When Nicholas Shelby, unorthodox physician and unwilling associate of spymaster Robert Cecil, is accused of being part of the plot, he and his new wife Bianca must flee for their lives.
With agents of the Crown on their tail, they make for Padua, following the ancient pilgrimage route, the Via Francigena. But the pursuing English aren’t the only threat Nicholas and Bianca face. Hella, a strange and fervently religious young woman, has joined them on their journey. When the trio finally reach relative safety, they become embroiled in a radical and dangerous scheme to shatter the old world’s limits of knowledge. But Hella’s dire predictions of an impending apocalypse, and the brutal murder of a friend of Bianca’s forces them to wonder: who is this troublingly pious woman? And what does she want?
I think this might be my favourite in this series so far. Forced to hide out on the continent, Nicholas and Bianca head for Padua, and Bianca’s cheerful cousin Bruno.
They’re joined by a woman who claims to see Judgement Day and who becomes a wee bit too obsessed with Nicholas to be completely healthy.
He sees agents of doom everywhere and even Bianca is under a cloud.
Meanwhile back in Southwark Ned is getting into trouble and the delightful Rose is trying to get him out of it.
I loved having more Rose and Ned in the book, it was great them having their own storyline independent of the misadventures of everyone’s favourite Elizabethan doctor.
I also really liked seeing Nicholas out of his element, forced to learn Italian, having to rely on Bianca a bit more. I loved cousin Bruno, he’s just like a sort of puppy. And the inclusion of Galileo Galili as a drunken University professor, yelling at his students and planning to annoy the Florentines was an excellent touch.
All of the historical details, and the famous names and places add to the sense of time and place, grounding it in the Enlightenment’s early years – Galileo isn’t yet a heretic, Shakespeare’s still a jobbing playwright, the Earth is the centre of the universe.
These are such fun books and the conspiracy this time is not remotely what you expect – doom monger Hella isn’t an agent of one of England’s enemies, she’s a prophet of the apocalypse – or is she?
The curious state of Christianity in the 16th Century, with its mystics and pilgrims, hundreds of saints and apostates is given centre stage and it really is a strange place. I didn’t really think of the Netherlands as a hot bed of this sort of thing, but with a certain Heironymous of Bosch painting his nightmares, there’s a bit of an atmosphere.
*I was kindly gifted a copy of this book in exchange for taking part in the blog tour but all opinions remain my own.