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Saturday 18 February 2023

‘Prophecy’ by S. J. Parris

 Published by HarperCollins,
18 August 2011.

ISBN 978-0-00-731773-8 (PB)

The narrator is the real-life historical character, Giordano Bruno, once a monk in Rome, forced by the Inquisition to flee, and fetching up in England. Elizabeth I is on the throne, apparently unassailable, but in reality the country is rife with plots to assassinate her, replace her with her cousin Mary Queen of Scots and impose by force the Roman Catholic religion on the recently Protestanised kingdom. Sir Francis Walsingham, the Queen’s spymaster, recruits Giordano into his network of informants and spies.

Giordano is back in London. The city is awash with prophecies of doom which swirl through the city engulfing the entire population and even reaching the Queen. Giordano is now ensconced in the household of the French ambassador and apparently embroiled in the plots against Elizabeth, although still, as Walsingham‘s spy, passing on the information he gleans. 

He is a friend of Dr John Dee, the famous magician whose advice is sought by the Queen yet, who treads perilously near witchcraft - a criminal offence punishable by death. Giordano himself has an interest in the occult. We learned in Heresy that he is seeking one of the lost books of the ancient philosopher and mystic Hermes Trismegistus . In Prophecy it appears that John Dee may have this alluring but dangerous work. This time it is first one, then another, of the Queen’s ladies in waiting who is murdered in a way, which clearly links them to the prophecies and through them to the plotters.  Only Giordano wonders why, if the link exists, the plotters should have made it so obvious. Is the perpetrator serving some other cause?

The story is really superb, well-written and presenting a vivid and authentic picture of life, peopled with real-life characters, convincingly drawn, in Elizabethan England.

Reviewer: Radmila May

S. J. Parris is the pseudonym of author and journalist Stephanie Merritt. It was as a student at Cambridge researching a paper on the period that Stephanie first became fascinated by the rich history of Tudor England and Renaissance Europe. Since then, her interest has grown and led her to create this series of historical thrillers featuring Giordano Bruno. Stephanie has worked as a critic and feature writer for a variety of newspapers and magazines, as well as radio and television. She currently writes for the Observer and the Guardian and is the author of several books and one son.


Radmila May  was born in the U.S. but has lived in the U.K. since she was seven apart from seven years in The Hague. She read law at university but did not go into practice. Instead, she worked for many years for a firm of law publishers and still does occasional work for them including taking part in a substantial revision and updating of her late husband’s legal practitioners’ work on Criminal Evidence published late 2015. She has also contributed short stories with a distinctly criminal flavour to two of the Oxford Stories anthologies published by Oxpens Press.  

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