The Heresy of Dr Dee by Phil Rickman

A successful twist on the historical events of the period.
The Heresy of Dr Dee book cover

All talk is of the End-time... and the dead are rising. At the end of the sunless summer of 1560, black rumour shrouds the death of the one woman who stands between Lord Robert Dudley and marriage to the young Queen Elizabeth. Did Dudley's wife, Amy, die from an accidental fall in a deserted house, or was it murder? Even Dr John Dee, astrologer royal, adviser on the Hidden and one of Dudley's oldest friends, is uncertain. Then a rash promise to the Queen sends him to his family's old home on the Welsh Border in pursuit of the Wigmore Shewstone, a crystal credited with supernatural properties. With Dee goes Robert Dudley, considered the most hated man in England. They travel with a London judge sent to try a sinister Welsh brigand with a legacy dating back to the Battle of Brynglas. After the battle, many of the English bodies were, according to legend, obscenely mutilated. Now, on the same haunted hill, another dead man has been found, similarly slashed.

Phil Rickman’s second novel in his series about Dr John Dee, the astrologer and adviser of the ‘hidden’ to Queen Elizabeth I.

Dr Dee is viewed with suspicion by most of the population of England & Wales who see him as a conjurer and mysterious figure due to his interest in the ‘hidden’ – a mixture of science and magic which the monarch shows a keen interest in.

In this adventure, Dr Dee is on a mission for a Shewstone which takes him in to the Welsh borders. Here the rule of an English monarch and the state’s official religion are equally fragile and mixed with local tradition.

Dee is joined in his adventure by his friend and potential suitor of Queen Elizabeth, Robert Dudley. Both of their lives are put in peril and Dee has to confront the myths of this land and a Welsh figure of legend using his knowledge and the abilities of a local boy to his advantage.

The story is a dark mystery that reflects the era where magic is intertwined with daily life and superstitious locals look to Dr Dee for guidance.

It took me a while to become accustomed to the complex world of Elizabethan England and Wales but as the book gains pace so did my understanding of the political situation and the interrelationships of the characters. The plotline involving Robert Dudley, his affections for the Queen and the death of his wife, Amy, reflect historical fact and Rickman does a marvellous job of adding a narrative to these important events.

The novel gathers momentum at a pace towards the conclusion and I must admit that I did lose the thread of the story when this happened. This was sometimes due to the style of writing where it jumps from one event to another and when it leaves the action to the reader to guess what took place for it to be picked up at a different point of the story.

It was an enjoyable story and did prompt me to research Dr Dee and the time period. Rickman succeeds in putting a twist on the historical events of the period and adds in a dramatic plotline.

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