In 1536 it seems the entire known world is changing–strange new lands are discovered and the Reformation is challenging Rome and its power. In England the king’s declaration of a new church and dissolution of the monasteries overturns the customs and authorities of centuries. In the new world order, spies abound and no one can be trusted.
To Brother Pacificus of the Abbey of St. Benet’s in Norfolk, it looks like his abbey alone will be spared dissolution. But this last Benedictine house is mired in murder and intrigue. Then when Pacificus falls under suspicion, more than his own dark past comes to light, while the body count keeps rising. Pacificus’s fate becomes entwined with that of three local children after their parents are arrested for treason and heresy. Protected only by this errant monk, a mysterious leper, and a Dutch eel-catcher, the children must quickly adjust; seeking their own identity, they soon find that neither parents nor protectors are quite what they seem.
Looking for an historic epic set in England? Curious about Henry VIII, his wives, his relationship with Rome, and the birth of the Anglican Church? Then The Heretic is for you. Don’t be put off by the thickness of the book. I’d not read anything this long in some time. That and the list of chapters made it seem as though reading it might be a challenge. Then came the list of characters, which I would refer to often, followed by diagrams of how St Benet’s possibly looked like. This is a book you’ll want to read in paper format so you can quickly access these reference materials.
The Heretic is not an easy read. There’s no sailing through the 600 pages. The writing is difficult to follow at first. It’s written in the present tense but in the third person narrative. Although Pacificus is the main character, there are various points of view. There are pages with little or no speech. Then there are streams of conscious thought written as complete paragraphs, sometimes taking up half a page, and these aren’t all the thoughts of Pacificus.
So why would you want to read this novel? Let me tell you. I found it intriguing. I had some knowledge of the reign of Henry VIII and knew that it was just as easy to fall from grace as it was to rise to power. I wanted to know who would live and who would die. Pacificus is not exactly a pious monk. He has a past that appears to have included violence, and it’s possible that a religious life is not his calling. But he’s not the only man of religion bearing secrets. The head of his order has risen in status, even as the king’s men are tearing down monasteries throughout the country. How has this happened? Is Henry VIII going after the Roman Catholic Church or those who would be in opposition to its beliefs? How will Pacificus’s life change as a result of the events in which he finds himself?
The narrative does meander at times, so that I wasn’t entirely sure where it was going. But I wanted to know where it was going and there were times when I thought I knew. The fate of three children might’ve seemed to be the destination, but eventually it became clear: this is the tale of a man who was looking for something but wasn’t sure what it was until he found it.
The Heretic is one of my books of 2014. I’ll share my complete list at the end of the year.
Thank you to Kregel Publications for my complimentary copy of The Heretic, which I received in exchange for an honest review.
Have you read The Heretic? Do you plan to read it? Let me know your thoughts.
Publisher: Lion Hudson (a division of Kregel Publishing)
Publication Date: 19 September 2014
Page Count: 608