Constant Reader
WebBoardOrientationReading ListsHome WorksActivities

Ex Libris
by Ross King

Book Description
A cryptic summons to a remote country house launches Isaac Inchbold, a London bookseller and antiquarian, on an odyssey through seventeenth-century Europe. Charged with the task of restoring a magnificent library destroyed by the war, Inchbold moves between Prague and the Tower Bridge in London, his fortunes-and his life-hanging on his ability to recover a missing manuscript. Yet the lost volume is not what it seems, and his search is part of a treacherous game of underworld spies and smugglers, ciphers, and forgeries. Inchbold's adventure is compelling from beginning to end as Ross King vividly recreates the turmoil of Europe in the seventeenth century-the sacks of great cities; Raleigh's final voyage; the quest for occult knowledge; and a watery escape from three mysterious horsemen.

From: Jane Niemeier Date: Monday, August 16, 2004 09:38 PM Since I nominated this book, I think that I am supposed to start the discussion. It suddenly hit me when I was running today that today is the 16th. I am a day overdue. There were many things that I liked about this book. The style was wonderful and fit the time period of the book. King created a wonderful atmosphere for the story. I also loved the names of the characters like our main character, Mr. Inchbold. It is all very Dickensian. The first half of the book was fascinating, and then I thought that King got a little carried away with the plot. *************SPOILER****************** It seemed far-fetched that Alethea would go to such lengths to divert everyone's attention from her task. Then at the end, we never found out what was actually revealed in the secret writing. I also found it hard to believe that the whole house and everyone in and near it were swallowed up by the ground. It seemed like a silly ending. Jane
From: R Bavetta Date: Tuesday, August 17, 2004 02:41 AM Like in The Name of the Rose, which this reminded me of, I started out thinking this was really good. But about halfway thru I got completely lost, couldn't tell who was who, what was what, or who was what without a program. I was totally at a loss. I kept reading, hoping it would all be sorted out, but I never did get more out of it than Aletha staged it all. Like Jane, I thought this was insufficient. During the house collapse scene I kept thinking what a great special effects film it would make. R
From: Sherry Keller Date: Tuesday, August 17, 2004 07:48 AM Actually, Jane, I don't think we've instituted the nominator/leader rule yet. I was just late getting the thread started, but thanks for doing it. I'm only about half-way through and really enjoying it. Life is interrupting my finishing it, however, but I will get to it eventually. I haven't read the spoilers yet. I really love literate mysteries. Sherry
From: R Bavetta Date: Tuesday, August 17, 2004 01:26 PM Ack, I forgot to put a spoiler notice. Thanks for reminding me so politely, Sherry. I've remedied it. I think perhaps those of you, like Jane and Sherry, who read mysteries regularly are better off with this one than I was. I'm always totally flummoxed by ordinary mysteries. I NEVER quite understand all the machinations, so throw in all the obscure references in this book and I'm totally at sea. R
From: Ian Cragg Date: Tuesday, August 17, 2004 02:22 PM It's fascinating that, in spite of all the historical references (the Civil War, Commonwealth and Restoration are still a standard part of the British history syllabus) and the references to arcane manuscripts, it reminded me of nothing so much as 'The Maltese Falcon'. Think about it for a second- it's so like a Raymond Chandler or Dashiell Hammett story in Restoration garb. With a touch of Patrick O'Brian towards the end in the bits dealing with the expedition. On a completely unrelated topic, a few minutes ago a fight nearly broke out over the road from me- a motorist apparently nearly knocked a cyclist off his bike and the cyclist decided to put a couple of dents in the car. All helps to keep things interesting.
From: Sherry Keller Date: Sunday, August 22, 2004 10:10 AM I finished reading this last night and really enjoyed it, collapsing house and all. I think that might have happened. Originally the underground river had been diverted to furnish all the fountains with water. If the pipes and waterworks for that all decayed, it would revert back to its original river. Silly place to built a house, though. I think the ghost writing was something Plessington wanted to smuggle--Galileo's formula for using the moons of Jupiter to find that hidden golden island. And that's why everybody else was after it. Whoever had the directions to that island would be wildly rich, or so they thought. Also the Catholic Church didn't want that information out because it would prove Copernicus was right. I did have a hard time keeping people straight. All those machinations, and to what purpose. What I really liked about the book is that it described a phenomenon that we all take for granted: That knowledge is dangerous and therefore books can be dangerous. In our free society we're allowed to read anything we want (or at least we're supposed to be able to). So it's hard to imagine a society where information is suppressed (OH, I forgot about evolution and the little flap in some quarters (still) about that---maybe we're not so far from Inquisition times as I would imagine). I liked this, near the end: "With Europe poised on the brink of the abyss, the study of Nature and the pursuit of Truth had been replaced by a vulgar contest in which Protestants and Catholics each tried to bend the other to their will. Learning was no longer being used for the improvement of the world: it had become instead the handmaid of prejudice and orthodoxy, and prejudice and orthodoxy the handmaids of slaughter." Sounds rather familiar, no? I have a feeling this is the main reason King wrote this book. Sherry
From: Jane Niemeier Date: Sunday, August 22, 2004 08:44 PM That is an excellent review, Sherry, Jane
From: Sherry Keller Date: Monday, August 23, 2004 08:47 AM Thanks, Jane. I think I would have enjoyed this even more had I read it straight through without so many interruptions. I lost track of the names of houses, too, and had to go back and try to find out who Wembley House belonged to and why it was important. This book would be a good candidate for a re-read right away, if I did that sort of thing. Sherry
From: Mary Ellen Burns Date: Friday, August 27, 2004 12:44 PM Wow, this discussion died fast! I'm about 1/3 of the way through and (still) enjoying it... I gather from some of the posts that that may change. (I successfully avoided the spoilers, and am still game to keep reading.) Mary Ellen
From: Mary Ellen Burns Date: Thursday, September 16, 2004 01:55 PM Well, I finally read the last bit of this book, and I think I agree wholeheartedly with Jane's first post. It just got more & more ridiculous as it went on. Like Jane, I'm not 100% sure of what it was Alethea was trying to hide. The Galileo thing about the moons of Jupiter wouldn't work at sea, so that was a red herring -- in the very last pages of the book! Of course, I might have missed the big revelation because, by that time, I didn't much care. I read the last 10 pages just for the thrill of finishing something off! I was truly disappointed in the characterization of Alethea. She didn't become a real person, just a collection of mannerisms (the cigar smoking!). And the "diversion" she was creating with Inchbold seemed to have no purpose whatsoever. (And if Richard what's-his-name knew she had the parchment, since he was selling it for her, why was he chasing Inchbold to get it?) The first half was a lot of fun, but promised much more than the book delivered. Mary Ellen


In Association with