4 out of 4 stars
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What is the connection between Copernicus’ heliocentric theory, saints’ feast days, and a serial killer who targets priests? Find out in Fire and Earth, a historical novel by David West. Abuse, greed, corruption, and hypocrisy have tainted the Roman Catholic Church’s reputation for centuries. Set in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, an Englishman, Sir Anthony Standen, unwittingly becomes involved in the scandals when he is hired to investigate a series of unusual murders. Sir Anthony initially believes he is doing the work of God as he hunts down the vicious killer, but he soon realizes that there are some Church leaders with less noble intentions. With his growing family in mind, Sir Anthony is determined to complete his mission in exchange for the hefty reward he is promised. As the pieces of the puzzle come together and innocent lives are threatened, Anthony begins to question his faith and everything he was taught.
The eye-catching cover design features the eerie image of a human skull and a heraldic rose in the forefront. A cross and the silhouette of a man wearing a bicorne hat loom in the fiery background. This novel is the second installment in the Sir Anthony Standen Adventures series. The themes of the story include mystery, romance, adventure, crime, corruption, science, theology, and philosophy. Roman Catholic doctrines and traditions are core aspects of this novel, but because these beliefs are called into question, I think that this book is suitable for anyone with an open mind (regardless of their religious affiliation). The text contains only a few instances of profanity. Acts of violence and sexual abuse are discussed throughout the book, but they are not graphic.
Sir Anthony is the main protagonist. In the first book, he worked as a spy. During his travels, he learned how to fight and pick locks. He also became fluent in different languages. On his team, he becomes reacquainted with Hugh O’Neill, Earl of Tyrone. Hugh is an exiled Irishman who led a rebel army, so his combat skills and tenacity are legendary. Cardinal Aldobrandini is the one who recruited them to investigate the crimes. The cleric is as sharp as a whip and seems to have many secrets. Sergeant Hennard is one of two members of the Swiss Guard assigned to protect them on their trip. His blunt honesty provides some comedic relief. If you like girl power, look no further than Anthony’s wife, Francesca and their daughter, Maria. In the male-dominated world of the 1600s, these feisty ladies embody feminist ideals, and they don’t let anything or anyone hold them back. Each character had a unique personality, and this added depth to the plot.
I liked the fact that this story was inspired by real people and historical events. I found it interesting that the age-old tension between the English and the Irish was ignited as Anthony and Hugh embarked on their quest. I enjoyed the poetic language that was used to describe Anthony’s feelings as he missed Francesca, and I appreciated how the Resurrection paintings described at the beginning of the book foreshadowed the spiritual questions that emerged later in the story. It was also interesting that the heliocentric theory was debated during the era that this story was set in, and Galileo (a strong proponent of this theory) was a minor character in the plot. Additionally, the plague outbreak was relatable due to what is currently going on with the pandemic.
However, I have one complaint. As much as I enjoyed the characters’ realistic conversations, Hugh’s speech was written in a bizarre manner similar to Yoda from the Star Wars franchise. “After Essex was defeated, doing quite well I was.” is an example of something Hugh said. Perhaps Mr. West was attempting to be as historically accurate as possible, but reading sentences like that was awkward. Other than that, the book had a few errors, but not enough to affect my rating.
Therefore, I give Fire and Earth by David West a rating of four out of four stars. This is a very entertaining and thought-provoking story. Above all, this novel illustrates how unscrupulous, hypocritical, and power-hungry religious and political leaders were back then, and it still continues to this day. The theological and philosophical questions posed in this novel reminded me of some questions that I have often pondered myself. That is why I recommend this book to open-minded people who like exploring possible explanations for the meaning of life, the nature of God, and the foundations of the universe. Fans of historical fiction will also enjoy this publication.
Fire and Earth
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