For those of us waiting with bated breath for the next installment in C.J. Sansom's marvelous Matthew Shardlake murder mysteries set in Tudor England, heed my words: Phil Rickman and his John Dee have arrived! Our cravings for craven Tudor-esque crimes can be satisfied! After all, the agitated times of Henry VIII, Bloody Mary, and Queen Bess offer plenty of grist for the plot mill, and Phil Rickman has reaped the lot. The Bones of Avalon, just released last week, gives us John Dee, a real-life character from history (one of Queen Elizabeth's favored wise men), setting off in search of Avalon and King Arthur and knowledge, always more knowledge. What he finds is murder most terrible, but will he find the culprit in time to save the queen? The novel chills, thrills and satisfies, providing good history, great plot, and fascinating characters. Pull up a chair, turn off the phone, and settle in for a most delectable read.
John Dee was a sixteenth-century scientist and a scholar, renowned throughout Europe but feared in his own England as being a conjurer, a magician, a dabbler in dark arts. Like Sansom's Shardlake, Dee is an outsider: much as Shardlake is feared and despised for his hunchback, Dee is feared and despised for his constant search for knowledge of the universe. In the religious chaos of England at the time, where pagan rituals lingered amidst the ruins left by the battles between Protestant and Catholic, English Church and Papists, Dee was both Christian and scientist, scholar of both the Bible and of more ancient -- even occult -- religious documents. In Richman's rich and fascinating novel, Dee struggles with the reconciliation between knowledge and faith, curiosity and piety, but his determination to understand the world always wins out.
Lucky for us, because it is Dee's determination to get at the truth that bends and twists Rickman's plot around the myth of Arthur, the mysterious Tor of Glastonbury, and the destiny of Elizabeth. We are drawn into secrets and facts and mysteries as surely as Dee is drawn, and in the end, we are released as he is, in a cathartic, near-apocalyptic resolution of ideals and desires. The Bones of Avalon is a fabulous read and John Dee is a marvelous addition to the world of Tudor intrigue.