I have a sickness, an affliction, an addiction. It is one my husband makes good-natured fun of, yet tolerates and even encourages.  He is an enabler.

Whenever I travel, it is inevitable that I will find a library.  If there is a library that can be sniffed out, I will be there.

I’ve seen the ruins of Hadrian’s library, the library at ancient Ephesus, the public library in old fort walls in Croatia, little public libraries in Jamaica (where by the way, the posted rules say you can’t have curlers in your hair, or allow underwear to be seen), and libraries at children’s hostels in India.  While I have thoroughly enjoyed them all, only once have I been brought to the brink of tears.

The British Library in London has an exhibit room, The Sir John Ritblat Gallery, more commonly called “Treasures of the British Library.”  There one can see “magnificent hand-painted books from many faiths, maps and views, early printed books, literary, historical, scientific and musical works from around the world.”

There I found original manuscripts by Bach and Beethoven, and Mozart amongst others, and marveled at how difficult their notation was to read, remembering the hours of tears and torment in trying to learn to play their works.

Farther away into the room, I found manuscripts of faith.  I never dreamed I’d get to see a Gutenberg Bible, but I did.  More awesome to me than the Gutenberg, however, was a Tyndale Bible from 1526, one of only three in known existence.  To know its translator had to hide while translating and had to smuggle his Bibles into England, and then was eventually strangled and burned at the stake as a heretic moved me unexpectedly.

All of this brings me to today’s books.  I’ve always enjoyed historical fiction. I have learned about events and times in an enjoyable way.  It’s important to remember, however, that historical fiction is not always 100% accurate.  Reading a book that piques my interest, drives me to learn more and do my own research. These books did that.

“The Ruby Ring” and “A Tale of Souls” are the first two books in the planned trilogy, “The Reformation – A Family Divided” by Karen Rees.  “The Ruby Ring” chronicles a family during the time during which William Tyndale began to translate the New Testament into vernacular English.  The only problem was doing this was illegal.  He knew allowing people to read the Bible in their own tongue would loosen the power the Catholic Church and priests held over them.

If Tyndale is caught, he will die at the stake as a heretic. So will anyone caught helping him.  Owen Alton, a man bound for the priesthood, catches Tyndale’s vision and is soon caught up in helping him.  Jane Horne loves Owen, and when he leaves England to follow Tyndale she gives him her ruby ring. The ring has its own story and holds a shocking key to her past.

“A Tale of Souls” picks up just prior to William Tyndale’s death during the reign of Henry VIII.  This volume tells of the tumultuous times between Henry VII and Bloody Mary.  During the reign of Henry VIII, he was a staunch Catholic until wanting a divorce and splitting from the Church over Anne Boleyn.  As he takes over the title of head of the Church of England, he abolishes monasteries, burns Lutherans at the stake and hangs Catholics.

With each subsequent king, the powers shift from Catholic to Church of England and back again.  Throw in other variations of Protestantism, Lutheran, Anabaptist and the like, and it is a royal mess.  When Catholics are in power, heretics (i.e. anyone not Catholic) get burned at the stake.

With non-Catholic rulers, monasteries are closed, church lands are seized to line the pockets of whomever is in power, stained glass windows are outlawed, and symbols such as crucifixes, rosaries and icons are illegal and destroyed.

After Lady Jane Grey’s eight-day rule, Bloody Mary seizes power and returns to a Catholic-based monarchy.  She begins again the search for heretics and anyone standing in her way.  History tells us she burned nearly 300 people at the stake.

Against these historical facts, the turmoil of a family who has people on both sides of the conflict plays out.  There is romance; there is deceit; there is suspense; and there is joy.  Rees has conducted meticulous research in making sure the history in her story of a divided family is accurate.

I look forward to the final book of the trilogy, because there were characters whom I came to care about, and I want to find out what happens to them.  “The Ruby Ring” is available now at Joplin Public Library.  “A Tale of Souls” is in our cataloging and processing department now, and will be available shortly.

 

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