Review: The Relic Master by Christopher Buckley


Buckley, Christopher T. The Relic Master. New York.
Simon and Schuster. 2015. 380 pgs.

As I begin this review, I have to confess a slight bias. This novel is historical fiction, which happens to be one of my favorite genres AND it is set right at the beginning of the Reformation in Europe, which just happens to be one of my favorite historical periods to read about and study. If author Christopher Buckley wanted to write a book just for me, The Relic Master would do quite nicely.

Dismas is a former Swiss mercenary now earning his bread as a relic finder. His occupation in life is to procure holy relics — items like the bones and other body parts of saints e.g. the jawbone of St. John the Baptist OR something intimately associated with a saint or holy figure such as a piece of the True Cross — for clients among the clergy, nobility, and merchant classes who desire to have something extra holy around the house to shorten their souls’ church-mandated stay in Purgatory.

Our protagonist makes a comfortable living obtaining relics for his various clients but by far his two wealthiest patrons are Fredrick the Wise, Elector of Saxony and his nemesis Albrect, Archbishop of Brandenburg . . . among other purchased titles. Dismas has a good life and he prides himself on always dealing in strictly authentic relics and avoiding fakes and forgeries regardless of how lucrative the payoff or how clever the subterfuge. As long as Dismas adheres to this rigid code of ethical business dealings, his life moves along languidly and mostly uncomplicated. Unfortunately, a personal disaster seems to necessitate a foray into the putrid world of relic forgery and once Dismas steps across his hitherto sacrosanct line, his languid pace of life turns highly complicated.

Just as a read, I enjoyed the novel. It is accurate in the areas it purports to be accurate and for me nothing is worse than slipshod historical references in a supposedly historical novel. Buckley obviously did his research. His writing is expressive, but sparse which actually lends a nicer historical touch to the work. The characters, both historical personages and those purely fictional, are presented as three dimensional and possessing agendas of their own rather than one or two main characters surrounded by a supporting cast of flat, wooden page fillers. Indeed, some of the more minor characters are the most intriguing.

The novel gives a good look at the seedy world of the late medieval Church machinations just before Martin Luther so explosively turned the One True and Holy Church into the Roman Catholic Church on one side and a thousand Protestant denominations on the other. It is briskly paced and engrossing.

On the other hand, the sparse prose leaves little space for description. Settings have to be guessed at just from place names. No real effort goes into showing the medieval countryside, but I may notice that only because I’m interested in seeing the medieval countryside. All told, however, The Relic Master is well worth the short time it will take to read it.

Love y’all and keep those feet clean.

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