A Burnable Book, by Bruce Holsinger (William Morrow)
I spotted A Burnable Book early on Goodreads and was absolutely itching to get a review copy. A story set in the 14th Century with a plot that features heretical literature and Geoffrey Chaucer—what reader in her right mind could resist that?
The publicity likens A Burnable Book to An Instance of the Fingerpost and The Name of the Rose. I’m not sure I’d go that far, but it’s certainly no insult to the latter two to put them in the company of the first. Like those books, A Burnable Book is a delightfully “chewy” read: generous in length and filled with period detail.
Bruce Holsinger is a scholar specializing in medieval literature, and I trust him to get the details right. He ends the book with a long letter to the reader discussing his research and sources. The transsexual (my label here, the term didn’t exist in her own time) prostitute is based on 14th Century legal records of an interrogation of just such an individual. And I expect that the novel’s Gropecunt Lane had its real-world counterpart, likely with the same, rather arresting name.
Driven by political manouvering, the novel follows multiple paths of betrayal, abuse of power—even attempted regicide—all of which seem to result from the burnable book of the title, a prophecy of the deaths of England’s first thirteen kings.
A Burnable Book is the sort of piece you want to pick up when you have plenty of time for reading and the mental energy to follow a complex plot with a large cast of characters. It needs to be read, if not in one sitting, then over the course of a few days. That’s partly so one can keep the many details fresh in one’s mind—but even more an acknowledgement of what a compelling reading it is. Regardless of what one’s intentions are, this is the sort of book that can’t be easily put down.