Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Review of The Relic Master by Christopher Buckley

Image and blurb from Goodreads.com 
The year is 1517. Dismas is a relic hunter: one who procures “authentic” religious relics for wealthy and influential clients. His two most important patrons are Frederick the Wise, Elector of Saxony and soon-to-be Cardinal Albrecht of Mainz. While Frederick is drawn to the recent writing of Martin Luther, Albrecht pursues the financial and political benefits of religion and seeks to buy a cardinalship through the selling of indulgences. When Albrecht’s ambitions increase his demands for grander and more marketable relics, Dismas and his artist friend Dürer conspire to manufacture a shroud to sell to the unsuspecting noble. Unfortunately Dürer’s reckless pride exposes Albrecht’s newly acquired shroud as a fake, so Albrecht puts Dismas and Dürer in the custody of four loutish mercenaries and sends them all to steal Christ’s burial cloth (the Shroud of Chambéry), Europe’s most celebrated relic.

On their journey to Savoy where the Shroud will be displayed, they battle a lustful count and are joined by a beautiful female apothecary. It is only when they reach their destination that they realize they are not alone in their intentions to acquire a relic of dubious legitimacy. Filled with fascinating details about art, religion, politics and science; Vatican intrigue; and Buckley’s signature wit, The Relic Master is a delightfully rich and intelligent comic adventure.

I've read a lot of historical fiction over the years. It's one of my favorite genres, but rarely is historical fiction funny. This book was funny. There was one particular reference to 'man-jam' that made me actually set down the book so I could belly laugh without loosing my page. I loved the fast pace and the short chapters, it made the whole thing go by very quickly. Most of the characters were very well written and by the end of the book I cared as much about them as they did each other. Even the German mercenaries who had been sent with Dismas and were relatively flat characters, were very endearing by the end of the book, as their loyalty and friendship to each other, and eventually to Dismas and the others, really showed who they were. 
What I loved the most was the time that The Relic Master was set at. It's set in 1517-19. I could tell you all about what was happening in England at that time. Henry VIII was preparing for the Field of the Cloth of Gold, the summit where the entire English court would go the France and meet with Francois 1 near Calais in 1520, he was still happily married to Catherine of Aragon and his affair with Betsy Blount was just ending since she was pregnant with his son in early 1519. But for all I know about England in that time period, my knowledge of the rest of Europe, and the world for that matter, is almost nothing. So to get to see a view point of the rest of Europe during that time was very interesting for me. The fact that there wasn't even a mention of England was pretty cool for me because it put those events into perspective. The whole of Europe was not focused on the royal court of England, which is easy to loose sight of when that's all you read about. 

As far as things I didn't like; I bought into Dismas being desperate and all that as for making the shroud in the first place, but once he was in Savoy and they had a plan in place, it seemed like there was an easier way to do what they were trying to do. I kept wondering why they didn't just tell Albrecht they'd switched the shrouds and leave the Chambery shroud where it was since Dismas was so sure it was fake anyway. The plan itself was a problem for me too. It was never really a clearly defined plan. They bought the fabric in Basel, but then never talk about a plan again, and when to get to Savoy it's never really talked about either. I felt like the reader was left to figure it out through conjecture, and while that works sometimes here I felt like I was just left out and standing on the edge with no idea what was going on. Thankfully this book was entertaining enough that it didn't matter much and I didn't really think about it much until I was done reading.  
I also thought, that with the back drop of Luther and the religious climate in the book one of the main characters would go through some kind of religious awakening and decide to follow Luther on his reform, but that never happened. Luther was discussed often and Durer seemed to side with him as far as the church went but no ones attitude or religious beliefs were affected by the events in the book. Dismas went on being skeptical, Durer quietly supported reform and kept being a good catholic, and Magda's  beliefs were never mentioned. 

The things I liked far outweighed the issues I found with this book. Also it gets extra credit for using the word 'man-jam' which I'm still laughing about. I'd recommend this book to anyone who likes historical fiction, has a good sense of humor, and doesn't mind a bit of rough language and religious jokes. If you liked Lamb by Christopher Moore, you will probably like The Relic Master. 

Rating; 4 saints jaw bones out of 5

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