fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsfantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsThe Hermetica of Elysium by Annmarie Banks

The year is 1494. Nadira is a Moorish slave whose late mother taught her to read and write in the hopes of bettering her lot. She lives in Barcelona and keeps the books for her master, Sofir, a recent convert from Judaism to Catholicism. Due to the peculiarities of Nadira’s background, she can read and write in a number of languages. Her humdrum existence comes to an abrupt end when an English gentleman, Lord Montrose, takes her away from Sofir and on a dangerous journey. He seeks a book, the Hermetica of Elysium, though he cannot read it himself; he is looking for it to fulfill his dead brother’s wishes. He will need Nadira’s multilingual skills to identify the Hermetica when he finds it.

Other men are after the Hermetica too — powerful men both secular and religious, desiring the book for a variety of reasons — and they all need Nadira. She is kidnapped multiple times throughout the novel. All these kidnappings can seem a little repetitive, but the real story in The Hermetica of Elysium is Nadira’s development as a character. She becomes more assertive, using her valuable skills as a bargaining chip to achieve her own ends. She is exposed to philosophy in the course of her translating, and opens her mind to new ideas. Finally, she discovers she has magical power.

The Hermetica could be seen as a symbol of knowledge itself. It’s seen as incredibly dangerous, and some seek to possess it while others wish to destroy it. Many fear it, believing it can drive its reader insane. Annmarie Banks uses Nadira’s situation to illustrate how it becomes harder for an aristocracy or a religious hierarchy to oppress people once they have learned to read, think, and question.

I read a finished copy of The Hermetica of Elysium rather than an ARC, so I should mention that there are some issues with the nitty-gritty of the editing: random tense changes; a scene that skips forward several days without transition and would have been less confusing with a line break; a scar that, if I haven’t lost my mind, switches from one man’s face to another’s. The errors were on the level of “mildly distracting.” You can’t quite ignore them, but nor do they ruin the read.

On the whole, The Hermetica of Elysium is an enjoyable debut. I’m reminded of novels such as Judith Merkle Riley’s A Vision of Light; like that earlier book, The Hermetica of Elysium features a strong grounding in history, religious conflict, a little bit of magic, a romance that is down-to-earth and believable, and a heroine who’s too smart for her time.

Annmarie Banks is currently writing a sequel called The Necromancer’s Grimoire which she hopes to release sometime next year.

The Elysium Texts — (2011-2014) Publisher: 1494 Barcelona. Thousands of books and manuscripts are lost to the flames as the Black Friars attempt to purge Europe of the ancient secrets of the gods and the bold new ideas that are ushering in the Renaissance. Words are Nadiras life. She is pursued as passionately for her rare skill as a reader of Ancient Greek, Latin, Arabic, and Hebrew, which makes her valuable to men who pursue the Hermetica to exploit its magic. Kidnapped by Baron Montrose, she is forced to read from the Hermetica. Within its pages are the words that incite the Dominicans to religious fervor, give the Templars their power, and reveal the lost mysteries of Elysium. As Nadira begins her transformation from servant to sorceress, will she escape the fires of the Inquisition, the clutches of the Borgia pope, Alexander VI and the French king, Charles VIII? And will Montroses growing fear of her powers cause her to lose her chance for love?

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  • Kelly Lasiter

    KELLY LASITER, with us since July 2008, is a mild-mannered academic administrative assistant by day, but at night she rules over a private empire of tottering bookshelves. Kelly is most fond of fantasy set in a historical setting (a la Jo Graham) or in a setting that echoes a real historical period (a la George RR Martin and Jacqueline Carey). She also enjoys urban fantasy and its close cousin, paranormal romance, though she believes these subgenres’ recent burst in popularity has resulted in an excess of dreck. She is a sucker for pretty prose (she majored in English, after all) and mythological themes.

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