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"Ex Libris" by Ross King

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annis
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"Ex Libris" by Ross King

Post by annis » Sat January 24th, 2009, 1:34 am

Chaos ruled during the first half of the seventeenth century, as Royalists battled Parliamentarians in the English Civil Wars and the forces of the Reformation and Counter-Reformation fought their way through Europe in the Thirty Years War.

Amongst the forgotten casualties of this period of violent disruption were the great privately owned English and European collections of art and books, vandalised, looted and sold off to avaricious collectors throughout Europe. Many found their way into the Vatican collection and that of Queen Christina of Sweden, particularly those from the Bibliotheca Palatina in Heidelberg, the most important library of the German Renaissance, numbering approximately 5,000 printed books and 3,524 manuscripts.

Eccentric, obsessive Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II’'s vast collection of books and curiosities in Prague reflected his interest in natural sciences and occult arts such as astrology and alchemy. “Ex-Libris” begins with a cryptic message sent to reclusive London bookseller, Isaac Inchbold by a Royalist lady lately returned to England after the Restoration, and attempting to restore her father’s library. The story, though, starts with the rescue of some esoteric books from Rudolf II’s library during the flight from Prague of Queen Elizabeth of Bohemia in 1619, at the start of the Thirty Years War. This complex literary thriller is about the search for one of these rescued books, a hermeticalmanuscript known as “The Labyrinth of the World”, and in labyrinthine fashion the story leads the reader down many paths and possibilities in search of the chimerical palimpsest, with danger lurking around every corner.

This is an example of the “Da Vinci Code” genre at its best, an astonishing maze full of adventurers, explorers, natural scientists, alchemists, spies, menacing agents and seekers of both truth and fortune. It’s beautifully written in a glorious tumbling cascade of words, a metaphor which is apt in a story overflowing with the imagery of water. Does the water symbolise the ability of wisdom to quietly gather and flow until its power overcomes resistance, or does it represent the power of bigotry, ignorance and violence to sweep away knowledge and reason, or maybe something else altogether? Such a conundrum is to be expected in this intriguing tale about the endless cycle of the destruction and rebirth of culture, knowledge and wisdom.


Review from Book Reporter
http://www.bookreporter.com/reviews/0802733573.asp

TheLong Room at Trinity College, University of Dublin, founded in the 17th century.
Last edited by annis on Wed January 28th, 2009, 5:01 pm, edited 9 times in total.

Ash
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Post by Ash » Sat January 24th, 2009, 2:01 am

I really liked this book; happened to read it just about the time I read Knowlege of Angels by Jill Paton Walsh (not HF, a novel about a kingdom with an Inquisition, with a man washed up from a shipwreck who has a mind of his own)

annis
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Post by annis » Sat January 24th, 2009, 2:12 am

I was feeling at a bit of a loose end after reading 'Master of Verona", and was delighted to discover "Ex-Libris", which is also demanding, convoluted and full of intrigue and elusive, sometimes devious characters. It's something of a magical mystery tour through the history and politics of western Europe in the seventeenth century, not to mention astronomy, cartography, philosophy, navigational techniques and many other fascinating details.

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Leyland
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Post by Leyland » Sat January 24th, 2009, 2:59 am

"annis" wrote: which is also demanding, convoluted and full of intrigue and elusive, sometimes devious characters.

True. I read the first 50 or so pages more than a year ago, but had too many distractions going on life-wise and put it down for too long to be able to pick it back up easily. I need to restart this one someday.
We are the music makers, And we are the dreamers of dreams ~ Arthur O'Shaughnessy, Ode

annis
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Post by annis » Sat January 24th, 2009, 6:32 pm

Posted by Ash
I really liked this book; happened to read it just about the time I read Knowlege of Angels by Jill Paton Walsh


That reminds me of reading a mystery by Jill Paton Walsh about a library- "The Wyndham Case"
<In a fictional Cambridge college, an undergraduate is found dead in the Wyndham Case, a most peculiar private library which just happens to be worth a fortune to the college.>
It was the first in a series of mysteries which she wrote, featuring Imogen Quy.

Ash
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Post by Ash » Sun January 25th, 2009, 4:36 am

I really enjoy her books, tho haven't read the mysteries. She also has written some YA books that are worth a peek. The Emperor's Winding Sheet is esp good; its an account of the fall of Constantiople through the eyes of a young page.

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Margaret
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Post by Margaret » Thu March 5th, 2009, 8:00 pm

I've just finished reading this book and enjoyed it, too, despite getting a bit exasperated sometimes by how much work it could be to sort out where and when I was and what was going on. My review is at http://www.HistoricalNovels.info/Ex-Libris.html. In retrospect, I think the thriller aspect of Ex-Libris is not the part that was important to the author. If I had realized that from the beginning and just let the atmosphere and historical detail wash over me without trying too hard to follow the plot (which Inchbold warns us, early on, is mostly a red herring, anyway), I probably would have enjoyed it more.

I love your thoughts, Annis, about the water imagery. Water, I would have to say, is much more a destructive power in this novel than a creative force. It keeps wiping things away. But then there is also the curious way that the wiped-away writing of a palimpsest can be restored by means of a liquid medium that re-darkens the old writing so it can be read again. I wonder if a woman would have written this novel slightly differently - King doesn't do as much as he might have done with the metaphor of birth, which is attended by a gush of amniotic waters.
Browse over 5000 historical novel listings (probably well over 5000 by now, but I haven't re-counted lately) and over 700 reviews at www.HistoricalNovels.info

annis
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Post by annis » Fri March 6th, 2009, 4:55 am

I think you're right, Margaret, the thriller aspect is subsumed to the story of the subversive alchemy of the written word; of the magic by which one person's thoughts can be expressed in writing, to be studied, re-interpreted and refined upon by any number of other readers, and how it can be used to to convey hidden messages which can be decoded by those who have the key, the patience and the ability to make an intuitive leap of understanding (cryptic crosswords, anyone?).

Other readers have also quibbled about the overwhelming amount of information which fills "Ex-Libris", and the author's erudition and delight in the many subjects covered in the story sometimes lead him to an excess which threatens to trip him up. However, his agility with words means that he generally manages a quick somersault and is up and away again.
I'd like to read his 18th century mystery, "Domino" sometime.
Last edited by annis on Fri March 6th, 2009, 4:58 am, edited 2 times in total.

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