Friday, December 30, 2011

Review: The Hermetica of Elysium by Annmarie Banks

The Hermetica of Elysium by Annmarie Banks
historical fiction/historical fantasy
Knox Robinson Publishing
received from the publisher for an honest review

1494 Barcelona. As Torquemada lights the fires of religious fervor throughout the cities of Spain, accused heretics are not the only victims. Thousands of books and manuscripts are lost to the flames as the Black Friars attempt to purge Europe of the ancient secrets of the gods and the bold new ideas that are ushering in the Renaissance. Nadira lives a dreary life as servant to a wealthy spice merchant until the night a dying scholar is brought to the merchant's stable, beaten by mercenaries who are on the hunt for The Hermetica of Elysium. To Nadira, words are her life: she lives them as her master's scrivener and dreams them in her mother's poetry. She is pursued as passionately as the fabled manuscript for her rare skill as a reader of Ancient Greek, Latin, Arabic and Hebrew that makes her valuable to men who pursue the book to exploit its magic. Kidnapped by Baron Montrose, an adventurous nobleman, she is forced to read from the Hermetica. It is soon revealed to her that ideas and words are more powerful than steel or fire for within its pages are the words that incite the Dominicans to religious fervor, give the Templars their power and reveal the lost mysteries of Elysium. As Nadira begins her transformation from servant to sorceress, will she escape the fires of the Inquisition, the clutches of the Borgia pope, Alexander VI and the French king, Charles VIII? And will Montrose's growing fear of her powers cause her to lose her chance for love?
I really enjoyed this novel. I got sucked right into Nadira's story and didn't want to put it down. It is set during the Spanish Inquisition and the reign of Pope Alexander VI (Rodrigo Borgia). Nadira is a slave who manages the accounts and correspondence for her master, the spice merchant when the agents of the Inquisition bring a scholar to the home so she can translate for them. They are looking for the Hermetica of Elysium and in their question of the scholar, they mortally wound him. Days after his death, the scholar's brother and protector arrives to learn the details of his brother's death. Vowing to take up his brother's cause, upon learning of Nadira's skill with languages, they head off in search of the Hermetica.

Nadira is a very likable character. In a time when women frequently couldn't read or write their native tongues, Nadira can understand six languages and is extremely intelligent. She analyzes situations and is very perceptive. And she is not hesitant in being direct or honest with the men she encounters, if it does not harm her in any way. These are all excellent qualities for a heroine in contemporary novels, and really drew me to the character. These modern qualities are inserted in a way that it fits with the time the story is set in. Nadira frequently is asked why she knows so many languages, and she also has fears on how others, like the Black Friars could twist her knowledge to use against her.

One thing that struck me near the end of the book (actually while reading the sample for the second book), was while there was a romantic angle that appears midway through the story, it is a very clean story. Set in a time when the Pope had mistresses and featuring a young women taken out of her home by a group of strange men, one might expect learing, or the threat of rape, and once the romance blossoms, some physical action on the mutual feelings. But that never happens, and it doesn't need to happen either. You don't miss it, and the story doesn't need those salacious events or descriptions. Though it does give Nadira's traveling companions a bit of a chivalric air, even though from the stories they tell that they aren't quite the ideal chivalrous knights of Arthurian legend.

Banks does a good job in her variety of the characters she writes. Even in the backdrop of the Inquisition, there is variety in the clergymen. Some are strong supporters of the Inquisitions, some concerned with knowledge and learning, others for caring for their flock. The characters are not one dimensional, but have their good and their bad side, so learning which way they would go made it interesting. Banks also does a good job of blending the different ideology, for there are several discussions on philosophy between the characters.

What disappointed me the most was reaching the end. I was not ready for Nadira's journey to end. But it didn't really. The second book in the series, The Necromancer's Grimoire is expected to be released in September of 2012. There is also a free prequel that can be downloaded through the Knox Robinson Publishing website. And if you are interested, there is a giveaway for this title going on at the time of this posting over at Goodreads. Click on the book title link at the top of the page to go to the book's Goodreads page.

1 comment:

Melissa_Avid_Reader_MJ said...

Good review. I think I'm going to have to add this one to my wish list :-)