by Lawrence Goldstone
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA, April 27, 2010
Lawrence Goldstone’s The Astronomer is set against the political and religious backdrop of sixteenth century France. It is 1534 and a tumultuous time for Catholics and Lutherans and for a society on the brink of crisis and change.
Amaury de Faverges is a student at the college of Montaigu in Paris. He is drawn into the midst of religious and political intrigue after his friend, a Catholic, Giles is murdered by Lutherans because of the secret information he is carrying that could fundamentally change Christianity.
Amaury is hired to replace Giles as a spy for the Catholic Church. He is to infiltrate the Lutherans and report his findings to the Inquisitor of France, Matthieu Ory. He is asked to root out the secret that could bring the True Church to its knees. In return for this service, he is promised a decree of legitimacy (Amaury is the illegitimate son of the Duke of Savoy). Amaury goes on a journey fraught with danger that challenges his faith and has him constantly questioning which side is the “right” side.
The book is based around the idea of the heliocentric universe and the role this information plays in starting the Enlightenment. The book is fast paced, and a page turner. It is a quick and enjoyable read; full of intrigue, betrayal, love, and plot twists and turns. Goldstone paints a vivid picture of the religious unrest going on during this period and genuinely connects the reader to the protagonist, Amaury. The reader can easily relate to Amaury’s confusion and vacillating; he is a scientific man swayed by arguments from both sides. His inner conflict is one of the interesting points throughout the book as the reader is constantly left wondering if Amaury will truly switch sides after his discovery and after spending time with Lutherans whose ideas resonate with him on many levels.
The character of Amaury is well developed, and while the other characters aren’t explored in depth, it does not take away from the enjoyment of the book, nor does it leave the reader feeling that the characters are two-dimensional. The surrounding Lutheran characters are interesting enough to keep the story going and leave the focus on Amaury.
There are plenty of close calls and nail biting moments. Amaury escapes incredibly perilous situations; the book is an ‘edge of your seat’ thriller. The reader is pitched back and forth between feeling sympathy for the Lutherans to detesting them as Goldstone demonstrates that they are at times no better than their extremist Catholic counterparts.
The Astronomer is a good book; a quick read that is enjoyable for all audiences. The language is not technical; anyone can read and appreciate this book whether or not they are well versed in the religious upheaval in sixteenth century France. Goldstone does a good job in keeping the reader engaged; he does not get bogged down in historical detail, all the while not sacrificing historical accuracy for book sales.