Synopsis from Goodreads: 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 Nadira’s 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 Montrose’s growing fear of her powers cause her to lose her chance for love?
Source: Publisher for a fair and honest review
My Rating: 5/5 stars
My Review: Annmarie Banks’ The Hermetica of Elysium is the first book of the Elysium Texts series. This Medieval Fantasy novel is, without doubt, an outstanding start to this series and one I feel confident recommending to all readers and fans of the Medieval, historical fiction, and fantasy genres. The book opens in late 15th century Barcelona, a time and a place that was dangerous for women, Jews, and any person or text deemed heretical and/or dangerous by the Catholic Church.
Nadira is a remarkably special young woman who lives in Barcelona and works as a reader, accountant, and general secretary for a shop keeper named Sofir. Although a servant, Nadira is treated well by her master and often finds her work interesting and rewarding. One of Nadira’s particular talents is her ability to read, speak, and write several languages. While Nadira revels in this talent and adores reading anything and everything she can get her hands on she is also keenly aware that this gift is one that can get her into a whole host of trouble. As the book opens, that trouble is on Nadira and Sofir’s doorstep.
Nadira’s life takes a phenomenal turn when she is taken from Sofir’s home and into the service of Robert Longmoor, Baron Montrose of England. Nadira has been taken from the only home she has known for most of her life because of her ability to read a variety of languages. Nadira quickly discovers that Longmoor and his men are in pursuit of a book known as the Hermetica of Elysium. The Hermetica is a book that promises knowledge of all things and in 15th century Europe, a book such as this was absolutely heretical. Longmoor and his men seek only to recover the book, have Nadira read and translate it for them, and then protect it so that it never falls into the wrong hands. As you might well expect, Longmoor is not the only man in pursuit of such knowledge.
Nadira is treated well and with respect by both Longmoor and his companions and she does her best to help the men in any way possible. Throughout the course of the book Nadira is separated from and reunited with Longmoor on several occasions. However, she always seems to find herself in the service of an individual who is willing to protect her in return for her services as a reader and translator. Although Nadira dearly desires being reunited with Longmoor she also has to accept that due to her gender, she has very little say in her situation. Each of Nadira’s various masters bring her into contact with bits and pieces of the Hermetica and with each new experience, Nadira begins to understand both the beauty and the danger of this elusive book. Nadira also learns that her gifts go beyond anything she could have previously imagined or predicted; in fact, it becomes clear that Nadira is likely the only person in the world who can read the Hermetica without suffering any ill effects. This makes both Nadira and the Hermetica precious commodities.
The Bottom Line: I loved this book! Banks offers the reader such a variety of experiences including: the rich descriptions of 15th century Europe and its religious climate; wonderfully well-rounded and relatable characters; and a plot that it intriguing, entertaining, and full of tension. Once the plot really begins to unfold about half-way through the book it steamrolls right on through to the very end. There is action, there is love, there is adventure, and there is a series of characters that you don’t want to be done with. Generally when a book ends on a cliffhanger like the Hermetica of Elysium does, I am pissed off. In this instance I am totally excited and very much looking forward to the second book in The Elysium Texts Series, The Necromancer’s Grimoire.