The Hermetica of Elysium by Annmarie Banks
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 as the Black Friars attempt to purge Europe of the ancient secrets of the gods and the bold new ideas that are ushering the Renaissance.
Nadira lives a dreary life as servant to a wealthy spice merchant until 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 masters 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 maker 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 that 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 mysterious 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?
The relationship between the two main characters is at the heart of this novel. Nadira is a strong female in a time where many would consider her little more than a possession. She is far more educated than the majority of her male peers, the greater part being illiterate, and appears to have a great deal more common sense as well. Due to her natural intelligence and skills as a linguist, she is passed from one master to another, having little say in her own fate. Baron Montrose meanwhile, comes across as a bit of an enigma. We don’t get to learn a great deal about his early history but I liked the air of mystery that surrounds him. He has all the hallmarks of a quintessential tall dark stranger.
The historical setting is quite evocative. During the 15th century most of Europe was at one another’s throats, and this offers the potential for a lot of different factions all vying for power. The central premise that there are texts that are dangerous to read, and that there are various groups trying to control them appeals to me. Power struggles always make for interesting reading. The scenes featuring various members of the Inquisition, and also the Pope’s Cardinals, were highlights. This book features appearances by the Pope and the King of France. Perhaps the sequel will feature an appearance by Tomas de Torquemada himself? I think the series would benefit greatly from an out and out villain.
I have to be honest however, and admit that I was hoping for a larger, more obvious fantasy element in this novel. The fantasy is there, but it doesn’t really register until three quarters of the way through the narrative. I don’t mind a slow build up, but I had expected more evidence of the fantastical much earlier on. I was a little disappointed that it took so long for it to appear. It is a shame, as once the magical forces start to be used they do work well within the confines of the story. As Nadira begins to learn the things she is capable of, the story picks up a pace and my slightly flagging interest was re-ignited.
The set-up for the continuation of this story is certainly intriguing. There are a group of mysterious knights that appear towards the novel’s end that immediately caught my attention.
As this book is categorised as Historical Fantasy, I would have expected the fantastical element to be evident a lot earlier. I feel that this category could be misleading if you are a fan of that particular genre. However, if you enjoy historical fiction, and don’t mind a modest fantasy element then this could well be the series for you.
The Hermetica of Elyisium is released by Knox Publishing on 8th December 2011. The sequel, The Necromancer’s Grimoire is due September 2012.