Book Review: A Burnable Book by Bruce Holsinger (3/5)

5 Jan

I needed a final book to wrap up my historical fiction reading challenge. I thought I left myself enough time to read this by starting just after Thanksgiving. Little did I know stomach issues were going to keep me from running or driving to the gym for a few weeks and my progress would slow to a crawl. I just managed to finish this book on New Year’s Eve. And it was mostly thanks to my loving husband not taking failure for an option and forcing me on an hour-long walk where we both listened to books. Thanks, hubs.

Cover image via Amazon

A Burnable Book by Bruce Holsinger

Summary from Amazon:

London, 1385. Surrounded by ruthless courtiers—including his powerful uncle, John of Gaunt, and Gaunt’s artful mistress, Katherine Swynford—England’s young, still untested king, Richard II, is in mortal peril, and the danger is only beginning. Songs are heard across London—catchy verses said to originate from an ancient book that prophesies the end of England’s kings—and among the book’s predictions is Richard’s assassination.

Only a few powerful men know that the cryptic lines derive from a “burnable book,” a seditious work that threatens the stability of the realm. To find the manuscript, wily bureaucrat Geoffrey Chaucer turns to fellow poet John Gower, a professional trader in information with connections high and low. Gower discovers that the book and incriminating evidence about its author have fallen into the unwitting hands of innocents, who will be drawn into a labyrinthine conspiracy that reaches from the king’s court to London’s slums and stews—and potentially implicates his own son. As the intrigue deepens, it becomes clear that Gower, a man with secrets of his own, may be the last hope to save a king from a terrible fate.

The book seemed to be a bit too long for me. It dragged near the beginning, which is a bad place to drag. I didn’t get invested in the action until it picked up and by then, my time was diminishing and I just had to race through the book. I feel like as much of the plot development I remember from the last two days reading this book was in the rest of the book. That’s not very well-weighted. With a thriller, you expect a fast-paced ending, but I wasn’t expecting the slow beginning.

Holsinger had characters from a variety of social classes in Medieval England. His knowledge of the era shone well. I liked the maudlin a lot, they had a lot of character and I thought it was funny how integrated they were with the other levels of society. It was a good way to bring together such a wide variety of people in the mystery.

Milicent was my favorite for her ability to move between groups of people and how she was able to blend in. She was refined from her time as a mistress but when she was distressed and her low-born accent and way of speaking came out, I laughed because it showed how much she’d learned to put on airs. She was very smart and she loved her sister very much. She really had a heart of gold.

No single character was particularly relatable to me, but I liked a lot of them because I could see admirable traits in them. Maybe that was why I thought this book read slowly. It’s hard for me to pinpoint why.

Bruce Holsinger
Image via Goodreads

The ending of the book, from St. Dunston’s Day to the end, was the most exciting. Most of the book built to St. Dunston’s Day and I thought the scene was handled well and the way it wrapped up was exciting and kept me on the edge of my seat. I just wish there could have been some similar moments in the middle.

The middle, from Agnes and Milicent going on the run until St. Dunston’s Day, was a big drag for me. I felt like I was floundering with the characters, jerking the book around but learning nothing new. It felt like it was dragging just to reach the celebration when I think it would have been better if the story started closer to the climax date. It just dragged and dragged for me and couldn’t pick up.

Simon Vance read the audiobook and he’s a narrator I’ve liked a lot in the past. I thought he did well with this story, keeping me involved and using a lot of subtle voice work to bring the characters to life. I hope to be listening to another work of his in the near future since I do enjoy his readings.

In the end, the book seemed to boil down to twisting someone’s words and how powerful words could be. The book was altered several times in several copies that eventually made it so John could solve the mystery and trace back to the culprit. It’s not surprising to read a book about the power of words. Writers, myself included, have a powerful love for words and like to explore what that power can do and how it can affect others. 

Writer’s Takeaway: Writing a mystery is incredibly complicated, something I haven’t been brave enough to take on. The mystery part of this book was well done and enjoyable. During the large reveals, I was saying aloud “Oh, that makes so much sense!” and smacking my forehead for not connecting dots earlier. While I didn’t like the pacing of the mystery in this case, the web itself was well woven.

Overall enjoyable though some parts could have been edited down significantly. Three out of Five Stars.

This book fulfilled the (final) 1300-1499 time period for the When Are You Reading? Challenge 2020.

Until next time, write on.

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Related Posts: 
A Burnable Book by Bruce Holsinger | Read the World 
Entry 5: A Burnable Book (John Gower #1) | Sweaters and Raindrops 

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5 Responses to “Book Review: A Burnable Book by Bruce Holsinger (3/5)”

  1. nickimags @ Secret Library Book Blog January 5, 2021 at 1:07 PM #

    Fab review! Too bad it dragged a thriller definitely needs to start off fast!


    • Sam January 6, 2021 at 8:18 AM #

      Agreed. The beginning was good, but it really stalled quickly after that. Happy reading!


  2. carryabigbook January 5, 2021 at 9:03 PM #

    Sorry it didn’t work out for you. I had high hopes for this book as well.


    • Sam January 6, 2021 at 8:19 AM #

      Yeah, a bit of a disappointment. Other reviews seemed to have a similar complaint. Happy reading!

      Liked by 1 person


  1. WWW Wednesday, 6-January-2021 | Taking On a World of Words - January 6, 2021

    […] finished: I finished A Burnable Book by Bruce Holsinger at 7:30PM on New Year’s Eve to finish my 2020 When Are You Reading? […]


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