Title : The Hermetica of Elysium
Author: Annemarie Banks
Publisher: Knox Robinson Publishing
Category: Historical literature/romance/fantasy
When the publisher approached me with this book and asked if I’d review it, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to or not, because historical romance is a genre that doesn’t generally interest me. However, the fantasy element and the theme of the power of words and philosophy drew me in and I discovered a rich and surprising read that far surpasses what this books genre designation would have you expect.
We meet the central character, Nadira in 1494 in Barcelona, where she is a servant to a wealthy spice merchant. A man badly beaten by mercenaries looking for the book, The Hermetica of Elysium is brought to the merchant’s stable. When his brother comes looking for him, the man is already dead, but he discovers that Nadira can read Ancient Greek, Latin, Arabic and Hebrew making her one of the few people who can read the book they seek.
While the Black Friars are burning heretics and texts in their effort to purge Europe of the ancient secrets of the gods and the bold new ideas that are ushering in the renaissance, Nadira is kidnapped by Baron Montrose, the dead man’s brother and eventually is forced to read from the Hermetica. ‘She soon discovers that words are more powerful than steel and fire, for within its pages are the words that incite the Dominicans to religious fervour, give the Templars their power and reveal the lost mysteries of Elysium’ (from the blurb).
But the Baron is not the only man after her services as a reader and the plot has Nadira kidnapped several times by various people. Each captor gives her greater experience of the book and through it she begins to transform from a servant into a sorcerous.
The Christian church of the day sanctioned and propagated torture, cruelty and repression in the name of God and this formed a backdrop of tension to Nadira’s increasing empowerment. Not only is she in danger from the Inquisition, Pope Alexander Vl and the French king Charles Vlll, but her new love begins to fear her.
What I loved about this book were
- the delightful and beautifully portrayed central characters – brooding, noble Montrose and the other members of his party, sweet and earnest Brother William, the scholar Conti and of course Nadira herself who has the wonderful innocence of a mind unspoiled by dogma, a no nonsense, intelligent, gutsy woman.
- The slow growth of the love between Montrose and Nadira
- The snippets of philosophy and major themes eg words & knowledge are power, and freedom of mind is true freedom.
- The feeling of actually being in that era – often not pleasant, but realistic and more than made up for by the main characters.
- Her experiences in reading
- The way the reading empowers her.
There was a lot of gore flying about at certain points, but it was realistic to the time and I liked that it wasn’t romanticised or made more gruesome than it needed to be.
The ending was very satisfying, but with enough left open for me to want to read the sequel. I recommend this for all lovers of anything from this period in Europe’s history. I give it 5 stars.
But it now on Amazon