A Burnable Book, Bruce Holsinger Received to review from the author
I really wanted to love A Burnable Book. I’ve really enjoyed C.J. Sansom’s work, which is in some ways similar, and I like taking historical figures like Chaucer and Gower and playing with them in fiction. What’s more, I was in Bruce Holsinger’s MOOC last year just because the book was released, which was fascinating. I really enjoyed his take on historical fiction and the work he put into the MOOC; I liked his style of lecturing, and kinda wished I could do a whole course with him. So I was preeetty excited when he sent me a copy to review.
Unfortunately, the book itself didn’t work for me. It’s not the historical basis — I trust Holsinger on that! — but something less easy to put my finger on. I guess I just didn’t like the way he expressed the characters, the way the story spun out. I liked the choice of characters, the down-to-earth-ness of it all; this isn’t some romanticised past. But sadly… it just couldn’t keep my attention, and I struggled with it.
Still, if you like your historical fiction to be accurate and well researched, you can definitely trust Holsinger for that. I don’t agree with the really negative reviews about the author showing off or whatever, I just didn’t get on with it personally.
What did you recently finish reading?
I finished The Female Man (Joanna Russ) yesterday. I wanted to think so much better of it, but it felt like one of those stories where the message overruns the plot. Which is to say, I’m not sure what the plot even was.
What are you currently reading?
Actively, I’m back to working on reading Silhouette of a Sparrow (Molly Beth Griffin). I’ve nearly finished that one. It’s cute, I’m wondering exactly how far it will go. I think Sarah Diemer recommended this one at some point?
What do you think you’ll read next?
Bruce Holsinger’s A Burnable Book! I was talking to him on twitter earlier and he actually sent me an ARC, so after all that I’m moving it right up my list.
A lot of posts are going to be turning up today, I’m afraid. Like buses, post topics seem to come up all at once. (I could schedule them, but this is specifically a Wednesday meme, and the other thing I’ll post later is something I always do on Wednesdays. So!)
Anyway, this post is about Waiting On Wednesday, a meme hosted by Breaking the Spine, in which people highlight books they’re eagerly waiting for. Mine for this week is Bruce Holsinger’s A BurnableBook. I was part of Holsinger’s Plagues, Witches and War Coursera MOOC on historical fiction, and I really enjoyed his teaching style, and appreciated the way he engaged with the students. So I’m looking forward to the book because I’m interested professionally/academically, so to speak, but also because it involves Gower and Chaucer and — well, I’ll let the blurb speak for itself, shall I?
In Chaucer’s London, betrayal, murder and intrigue swirl around the existence of a prophetic book that foretells the deaths of England’s kings. A Burnable Book is an irresistible thriller, reminiscent of classics like An Instance of the Fingerpost, The Name of the Rose and The Crimson Petal and the White.
London, 1385. Surrounded by ruthless courtiers—including his powerful uncle, John of Gaunt, and Gaunt’s flamboyant mistress, Katherine Swynford—England’s young, still untested king, Richard II, is in mortal peril, and the danger is only beginning. Songs are heard across London—catchy verses said to originate from an
ancient book that prophesies the end of England’s kings—and among the book’s predictions is Richard’s assassination. Only a few powerful men know that the cryptic 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 hands 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.
Medieval scholar Bruce Holsinger draws on his vast knowledge of the period to add colorful, authentic detail—on everything from poetry and bookbinding to court intrigues and brothels—to this highly entertaining and brilliantly constructed epic literary mystery that brings medieval England gloriously to life.