Prophecy is S.J. Parris's second book (the first being Heresy) about Giordano Bruno, the 16th century ex-Dominican friar who was excommunicated from the Catholic Church for heresy. He was an astronomer who defended Copernicus’ heliocentric model, a philosopher interested in the occult sciences, a friend of some very important and influential men, and in this story a homicide detective and government spy for Queen Elizabeth’s spymaster, Francis Walsingham.
The plot follows Bruno as he is drawn deep into a web of espionage, treason, seduction, prophecy and magic. It begins with a ritual and a vision, followed by a portentous murder at the palace. Soon Bruno finds himself in the midst of a plot to remove Elizabeth and put Mary, Queen of Scots in her place on the English throne. Bruno must try to remain above suspicion as the conspirators dance around each other, following their own ambitions and political allegiances. There is the naive but well-meaning French ambassador Castelnau, who is loyal to King Henry of France and hopes for a diplomatic solution; his zealous and seductive wife Marie, who secretly supports the French Duke of Guise; the boorish Scotsman Douglas who may have murdered Mary Stuart’s second husband; the smooth, sneering Frenchman Courcelles; the Spanish ambassador Mendoza, who promotes King Philip of Spain’s interests; the quiet Philip Howard and his power-hungry and dangerous uncle Henry Howard, who has taken a strong dislike to Bruno. As Bruno attempts to gather evidence against these conspirators he is thrown into ever increasing danger.
S. J. Parris does an excellent job of taking real people and events and injecting life and soul into them. Each character is depicted beautifully, and most behave believably – particularly the twitchy and nervous Dumas – something that is often lacking in historical novels. Bruno himself is not the world's best spy or detective; he jumps to conclusions, misses important connections, doesn’t always lie well under pressure, and often fails to hide suspicious behaviour, resulting in some difficult questions from the other conspirators and quite a few palm-to-forehead moments for the reader. Although this can be a little frustrating at points, it also makes him so much more believable and a more endearing character. Bruno was not trained for this; he’s no super-sleuth with impossibly smooth excuses to hand. He lived as a friar for thirteen years. We are reminded just how vulnerable he truly is in this world of political intrigue, which adds to the tension and excitement. At several points it is only the trust and naivety of Castelnau that save Bruno from suspicion, a situation that makes his betrayal more complicated and poignant, for Castelnau is not a bad man. Other characters add depth, friendship, danger, intrigue, humour... and a few red herrings!
A great deal of research has obviously gone into this book, as the story twists through various aspects of Elizabethan life and the mysteries surrounding the (real) Throckmorton Plot of 1583. The novel is packed with historical detail, yet never gets bogged down by it, and no knowledge of the period is required to enjoy the story. References to prophecies, magic, astrology and astronomical events add a sense of mystery and supernatural danger to the plot, and help bring to life the fears and superstitions of Elizabethan England. There are so many things going on in this book, balancing mystery and magic with politics, espionage and murder investigations, that it could easily have become very confusing. However, the author never lets this happen; the plot flows easily and the book is a very enjoyable read. Above all, it’s good fun!
Part detective mystery, part political intrigue novel and part spy thriller, in Prophecy Parris has successfully woven all these different elements into a gripping and very enjoyable story that is bursting with vivid historical detail and difficult to put down.
"It has everything - intrigue, mystery and excellent history" - Kate Mosse
"Fascinating... The period is incredibly vivid and the story utterly gripping" - Conn Iggulden