Alchemy by S.J. Parris

Dr Giordano Bruno is off on his travels again, this time to Prague at the behest of Walsingham because one of his spies needs help. However, as he nears the city, there is news of a death and rumour that Golem, a monster from the Jewish quarter, is the murderer.

One of the things about Parris’ books is that there are so many wrong turns, cul-de-sacs, red-herrings and general misdirections that it takes a long time to get to the heart of the matter, and this book is no different. I really enjoy them but each time I get to the middle, I do wish they were a bit shorter.

In Alchemy, Parris explores the treatment of Jews, nothing changes, but keeps the theme of politics and religion running through the novel but the idea of beating death through the use of alchemy with Rudolf II being a keen proponent. It is an idea as old as time it’s just that we might use different ways to try and achieve it now although it is still only the rich that can consider it. This willingness to consider new ideas means that Prague is open and tolerant to all sorts of people and religions but the book shows that the tolerance is only skin deep.

I enjoyed the descriptions of Prague. I have visited many years ago and loved the place.

Golden Prague spread out before us, more striking than the engravings I had seen in Germany. A forest of spires and pinnacles filling the valley, from the ramparts of the great castle on its outcrop of rock, dominated by the tower of St. Vitus Cathedral, down through the grand timber houses of the Lesser Town on the slope facing the plain, all the way to the narrow, crowded streets and bell towers of the Old and New Towns across the river. A sharp east wind herded drifts of cloud across a pale sky; the city goimmered in the low sun of late winter, that the threshold season that only exists in thsoe northern countries, when spring is not yet on the horizon but offers small intimations of her coming.


The delight of this series is that you know what you are going to get – not the detail of how or where – but of the fact that Bruno will fall in love, that he will be beaten up and hit on the head several times during the story and that the Spanish catholic church will always be behind whatever skirmishes he finds himself in and that it will be a twisty, turny tale to get to the end point.

You might also enjoy Execution from the same series.

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