An ancient mystery, a lost letter, and a timeless love unleash a long-buried web of intrigue that spans four centuries.
In the late 16th century, five brilliant scholars gather under the cloak of darkness to discuss God, politics, astronomy, and the black arts. Known as the School of Night, they meet in secret to avoid the wrath of Queen Elizabeth. But one of the men, Thomas Harriot, has secrets of his own, secrets he shares with one person only: the servant woman he loves.
In modern-day Washington, D.C., disgraced Elizabethan scholar Henry Cavendish has been hired by the ruthless antiquities collector Bernard Styles to find a missing letter. The letter dates from the 1600s and was stolen by Henry's close friend, Alonzo Wax. Now Wax is dead and Styles wants the letter back. But the letter is an object of interest to others, too. It may be the clue to a hidden treasure; it may contain the long-sought formula for alchemy; it most certainly will prove the existence of the group of men whom Shakespeare dubbed the School of Night but about whom little is known.
Joining Henry in his search for the letter is Clarissa Dale, a mysterious woman who suffers from visions that only Henry can understand. In short order, Henry finds himself stumbling through a secretive world of ancient perils, caught up in a deadly plot, and ensnared in the tragic legacy of a forgotten genius.
In The School of Night, author Louis Bayard weaves together two stories with similar themes love, death, and the search for something of value but very different characters and settings: Elizabethan scholar Henry Cavendish in present-day Washington, D.C., and scientist Thomas Harriot in London during the reign of King James I. While the two men trade off narration duties, reader Robert Petkoff brings both Henry and Thomas and all of their associates into brilliant focus.
After Henry’s friend Alonzo Wax commits suicide, a collector asks Henry to help him retrieve an antique letter that was in Wax’s possession. The letter could break open the secrets of the ancient School of Night, a hush-hush meeting of the minds that allowed scholars to discuss religion, politics, and other taboo subjects without the Court discovering them, and could also lead to a long-lost buried treasure. Henry agrees to help, and finds himself in cahoots with Clarissa Dale another one of Alonzo’s friends who has been having visions that may be connected to the mysterious School. In the parallel story, Thomas (one of the members of the School of Night) is falling in love with his servant girl, a young woman with a passion for alchemy, while the plague makes its way steadily toward London.
Petkoff creates two distinct narrators for the book, giving both Henry and Thomas their own careful accents, emotional depth, and individual personalities, while illustrating the emotions that remain a constant from generation to generation love, ambition, fear, and grief. And while the story’s twists and turns don’t always come as a shock, it’s Petkoff’s expert performance that allows the intrigue and drama to span several centuries and bring the story to its emotional ending. Blythe Copeland
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