A Matter of Interpretation

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 11 Oct 2019

Member Reviews

The novel starts slowly but gradually builds up interest in Michael Scot and the story of his life - a character who did exist at a turbulent time in the Middle Ages. Plenty of historical detail as the story of Scot's life unfolds. Perhaps "novel" is the wrong description but it is a very effective biography of a most interesting (and to me unknown) historical figure.
Was this review helpful?
Canon Michael Scot has left his troubled childhood behind and become firstly a cleric and secondly a scholar.  His prowess in Paris leads to him being sent as tutor to the future Holy Roman Emperor, Frederick.  As Ferederick gains his majority he encourages Scot to work on the translations he is passionate about leading Scot to travel to Al Andalus and encounter the Moors and the Jews of Spain.  As Frederick becomes more powerful his freedom is restricted by the Church and when the Church bans the works of Aristotle Scot and the Emperor are reunited.
I found this rather a confusing book.  One one hand it is an interesting true story about a Canon who travelled across Europe translating great works from Arabic to Latin.  It is also more tangentially about the politics of Church and State in Medieval times.  However the slightly mystic twist in the latter part of the book threw me and I actually began to think that this was complete fiction.  It's not a bad book by any means, I just couldn't wrap by reading head around certain plot lines.
Was this review helpful?
For more reviews and bookish posts please visit: http://www.ManOfLaBook.com

A Matter of Interpretation by Elizabeth Mac Donald is a historical fiction book, taking place in the 13th  Century following Michael Scot, a scholar and translator working for Emperor Frederick II.  This is Ms. Mac Donald’s, an Irish born author, first book.

Michael Scot, scholar, mathematician, translator, and a priest, has been asked by Emperor Frederick II to translate the works of Aristotle, and on the way discovering the writings of Avicenna and Averroes . Scot travels from Italy to Spain risking life and limb to do so.

The Pope, however, seems to think that the translations are heresy, but Scot, with the backing of the Emperor, refuses to stop.

As a self-proclaimed history nerd, I usually enjoy historical fiction very much.  One can learn much from a well written, mostly accurate, historical fiction and A Matter of Interpretation by Elizabeth Mac Donald is no exception.

I’ve heard of Michael Scot in passing, but didn’t know much about him. I never realized he was as well-known as he was among intellectual circles of his lifetime. I mostly heard of Scot (The Scot) from fictional work such was Dante’s Divine Comedy where he is in the Eighth Circle of Hell with other false profits. According to his Wikipedia page, there were many not-so-kind legends about The Scot, in which magic, witches and spirits all play some part.

I was impressed by the research the author has done, rich historical details lend authenticity to the story, even when the paranormal is provoked (not very often, but just right). The narrative remains plausible and the characters seem true to their historical counterparts. The characters are fleshed out, complex people struggling with events, outside pressure, and themselves.

I was wondering about the language the author chose to use, instead of using old grammar which would either make it difficult to read or simply historically inaccurate (especially since the novel has multiple languages being spoken, none of them English), the author chose to use contemporary language and prose. This works because, told from the point of view of The Scot, the language provides familiarity, candor, openness, and honesty to the story and characters.

This novel shows The Scot attempting to reconcile heresy with knowledge, myth and truth, while keeping a balance trying to navigate the needs of Honorius III, who puts the church fist vs. the court of Frederick II, who puts the Empire first. The author manages to capture a time when Europe is turning a corner and the forces which want to hold it back, against the forces that want to charge forward.
Was this review helpful?
A well reserached story told in intricate detail in a very didatic manner.  The plot involves the story of Scottish Monk called Fr. Michael who is tasked by the the Holy Roman Emperor with seeking out and translating Aristotle's work.  Scot travels across Europe and parts of the the MIddle East encountering many dangers.  However, The Pope denounces the work and he becomes embroiled in a fight between the Church and State.

I am sad to say that although I can see the merits of this story, I just didn't engage with it. Perhaps, it was the writing style that told/tried to teach me too much. As if the author wanted to cram in all the research and ideas that she had.
Was this review helpful?
An excellent work of historical fiction, this well-researched and well-written novel takes the reader back to the world of scholarship and learning in 13th century Europe. It focusses on Michael Scot, a real-life monk and scholar, in his pursuit of knowledge.  Physician, astrologer and tutor to Emperor Frederick II, he travelled Europe in his quest and translated many works from Aristotle, Avicenna and Averroes at a time when these thinkers were sometimes banned due to Catholic suspicion and hostility. It was an era when Christians, Jews and Muslims were equally invested in promoting learning and the complex theological and philosophical ideas of the time are here clearly and accessibly presented. With its backdrop of real historical events, the author nevertheless doesn’t claim to offer a definitive or historically accurate portrait of Michael Scot but I found it a convincing and plausible account, and one which I very much enjoyed.
Was this review helpful?
I love reading about the medieval times and this book did not disappoint.  I had to admit I had to Google a few things (not really necessary to read the book, I just wanted more information) but I loved reading about Michael Scot and his battles with Pope.
Was this review helpful?
An intense book about an intense man. It took me a little while to get into this novel about a real person - Canon Michael Scot - but I'm glad I stuck with it. Once we got to the story of The Scot's earlier life, I found I was drawn in more. A book involving discussions of Aristotle, Averroes, Avicenna et al seemed right up my street, and ultimately it was. I enjoyed it very much, though it is not always an easy book to read - there is sadness, and disappointment, rejection and prejudice - and not much to counteract this except the friendship of men. There is an overall atmosphere of gloominess but that doesn't mean the book is gloomy - there is hope - that knowledge will ultimately be seen as something worthwhile in itself. That philosophy and religion will, at some point, be regarded as equal paths to that knowledge.
Was this review helpful?
I was delighted by this book which delves into the 12/13th centuries to deliver a real gem of a story based around a Scottish monk. Whilst reading, I wasn't too sure how much was fiction or fact and was really surprised to hear that the main character was based on an actual historical figure.  I was fascinated by the conflict between the religious ideologies of the time and amazed at the influence of the various popes of the day. 
Having enjoyed this so much, I would be encouraged to learn more about this period in history and I shall also look forward to the next book by this amazing author, Elizabeth MacDonald.
Was this review helpful?
I enjoyed this. It was very well written apart from a few bits of anachronistic language such as "sidekick" and "two- bit". It did drag a bit in the second half, but it was interesting to learn about a period of history of which I know little.
Was this review helpful?
The main character in this book is a Scottish translator who travels to Spain, so, naturally, it promised a lot. More specifically, the protagonist is Michael Scot, a monk who in the early thirteenth century served in the court of Frederick II. In this novel, Elizabeth Mac Donald reimagines the story of the real-life scholar, basing it upon the known facts and many myths about him. 

The Scot, as he is often referred to, travels across Europe in a quest for knowledge, armed with his linguistic abilities. He does so at the behest of Frederick II, Holy Roman Emperor, but his efforts make him more enemies than friends and put him at odds with the Vatican. 

The novel crystallises the historic importance of languages and translation in humankind’s pursuit of knowledge and advancement. We see also the power that this meant for those who could obtain and control knowledge. So much was at stake over the candlelit activities of a learned monk.  

Scot provokes scandal in his fellow Christians for working with Jewish co-translators to bring the works of Muslim scholars to Christendom. Amidst the court intrigue and power struggles that abound in the novel, there are constant schemes to discredit him. 

Church and state clash as the Christian world struggles with the philosophical relationship between faith and reason. 

Canon Michael’s intellectual curiosity, meanwhile, draws him to the murkier arts of astrology and alchemy, provoking even more suspicion of his character and allegiance, especially as rumours spread that he has powers beyond worldly explanation. 

Mac Donald brings this mysterious character to life wonderfully, portraying him as complex, troubled and deeply human. In his thoughts and travails, there is much that those of us who have learnt languages and lived in multiple countries can relate to. At various points I found myself smiling and nodding, including when Michael meets people who aren’t sure what or where Scotland is. 

Besides the well-researched period detail giving an insight into the thirteenth century, the book also has much to say that is relevant to the twenty-first, on themes such as identity, belonging, integration and more.

Of particular interest is the way the three main religions of the day – Christianity, Judaism and Islam – coexisted and interacted. We meet a Muslim who talks about fanatical Christian suicides, we see Jews having to wear yellow badges, and Michael Scot faces ostracization for donning Muslim attire. Yet despite the differences and tensions, they did cooperate in scholarship and learning – The Scot is aided at various points by both Jews and Muslims – and, perhaps most importantly, they were there. They were always there. At a time when right-wing extremists not just in Europe but globally would have you believe that the presence of Islam in the Western world is a recent phenomenon, it is healthy to remember that that is not at all the case. The persecution of Jewish people, as portrayed in the book in both Christian and Muslim territories, is also painfully reminiscent of what was to keep happening for hundreds of years to follow.  

The language used by Mac Donald is also worthy of comment. Though subtle enough not to detract from the flow of the prose, there are deft reminders in certain words, phrases or syntax that the characters would not have been speaking English to each other. This is a bold move but it mostly pays off and has the double effect of also adding to the historical feel of the work. 

With this strategy and some of the comments on translation, you might guess (in a good way) that the author is herself also a translator. Who else, you might wonder, would think to make translation so crucial to the plot of a novel? The result is a fascinating and entertaining read, and certainly not merely for the enjoyment of fellow translators. 

Full of plotting, mystery, philosophical and existential questions, and a whisper of the supernatural, this is a novel to read by candlelight and keep going until the wax burns right down.
Was this review helpful?
Net Gallery thank you! Was taught you don't talk religion and politics unless you want a fight or lose a friend! This is the beginning of such a time where which is it and how do you separate the two. The characters in this story only want to bro what is write and the story has you believing them. You get to know them! Really loved the cover of this book and it was right on with the design. If you are interested in the beginning of history of when the Church faces the State of other way around this It's the book! I kinda had a hard time in the beginning but them it got so much better and figured out what was going on with the characters!
Was this review helpful?
You would think this has the makings of an exciting book: Frederick II (stupor mundi) the Holy Roman Emperor, a Scottish monk and scholar who travels into Moor-controlled Spain to read forbidden documents. Unhappily the book is soporific.

Yes, things happen, but the plot is not compelling, nor are the characters. Even though it is a period of great interest to me and the Emperor is one of the more colorful, I had to force myself to read more than five pages at a stretch.

Pass this one by.
Was this review helpful?
I thank NetGalley and Fairlight Books for providing me an ARC copy of this book that I freely chose to review.
This is a case of a historical figure whose life is so gripping and fascinating that we would find it difficult to believe in if he was a fictional character. Although I must confess to not having previous knowledge of Michael Scot, the setting of the story in the XIII century, the variety of locations, and the endeavours of Scot attracted me to the book, and I’m happy that was the case.
Although the story is seemingly simple (a monk, particularly gifted for academia, pursues his objective of getting to the source of knowledge wherever it might be and in whichever language, in XIII century Europe, travelling, translating, accumulating knowledge, and having to fight against conspiracy and orthodoxy), there are many different strands woven into it, and reflecting the complex push-and-pull of the politics of an era in which religion and faith wars played a huge part in the struggle for power and combining that with Scot’s quest for knowledge is a mighty task. In my opinion, MacDonald does a great job, but I am not sure everybody will appreciate the way the story is told, and it is not one for people looking for a plot that moves along quickly and is full of adventures. There are journeys and adventures, but some of the most interesting parts of the book come from philosophical discussions and disquisitions as to the nature of truth and knowledge. 
The book is written in the third person, from an omniscient narrator’s point of view, and even though we read the story from what appears to be Scot’s perspective most of the time, this is not always the case, and even when we are following his adventures and are privy to his thoughts, we might learn about the way he appears to others and get comments and observations from others around him as well. There is also some first-person narrative, a “Confession” Scot is writing, interspersed with the rest of the novel, which, for me, was the part that made Scot appear more sympathetic and human (at points he is so obsessed with his studies and his project, that he seems unaware of the human beings around him, and he made me think of Captain Ahab from Moby Dick, although he seems to also have his “humanities”). The story starts close to what we later find out (and most readers might already suspect) will be the end, with an event that hints at a mystery, and then most of the rest of the story is told in something akin to a flashback, offering readers a chronological account of Scot’s lifestory.  Although this did not bother me, I suspect readers approaching the story with the expectation of a standard mystery (and no, this is not The Name of the Rose either) might be disappointed. Yes, there is a mystery, or several, but the book is not about that. It is about Scot and his time, and how his figure was more important and his pursuit worthier than he and his contemporaries realised. I’d recommend possible readers to check a sample of the novel to see if they feel the writing style would suit them. 
Scot’s life has all the elements that would mark him as a heroic figure (and as I said, one that we’d struggle to believe possible if he were fictional). He has a traumatic childhood, with the loss of his mother (who was a healer and suffered because of it); he proves himself a great scholar despite his humble beginnings, and although he faces opposition from the start, he also gets some help and assistance, manages to become Frederick’s (later to become Holy Emperor Frederick the II) tutor, and with his patronage, he sets off to find and translate Aristotle’s old texts. His journey towards knowledge makes him face dangers, come into contact with other countries and cultures (in Toledo and Cordoba he studies closely Arabic texts and his main collaborators are Jewish scholars), and be faced with the strict opposition of the Church, which at the time saw much knowledge (other than approved Theology) as a likely source of heresy and inherently dangerous. 
As I read the book, I felt as if I was immersed in the different countries, smelling the spices, contemplating the landscapes, touching paper for the first time (an amazing discovery for Scot), and was captivated by Scot’s goal. As a person who regularly does translations, I appreciate how hard his self-imposed task was and enjoyed learning a bit more about the process and the difficulties he faced. If I missed something, though, was hearing a bit more about the texts themselves. Perhaps that is only me, and many people would think there is enough detail, but I felt many of the discussions about Aristotle and about the work of some of his other interpreters and commenters was very vague and general —either assuming that all readers would already know, or that they would not be interested— especially when compared to more detailed accounts of Scot’s use of astrology and his dreams/visions. At some point in the novel Scot makes peace with his interest in Medicine (something he had tried to avoid due to his mother’s fate), but although he manages to avoid the worst of the church’s ban on Aristotle’s works and on translations by studying Arabic texts on Medicine, I missed a more detailed account of his work on that subject. (I studied Medicine, so perhaps this accounts for my interest more than any gaps in the novel itself).
There are many characters, as is to be expected in a novel covering so much ground and where many of events are of great historical importance. We have several popes, bishops, abbots, we have the crusades, we have kings, scholars, politicians… It is not always easy to keep straight who is who (especially if you don’t know much about the era), and I wonder if the final version will contain some charts or even a timeline to clarify matters for readers who are not experts on the topic. The political intrigue, corruption, battles, and jostling for power and influence make it as gripping a read as modern political thrillers can be.
I have mentioned the distance imposed by the point of view of the narration. I must also confess to feeling more intellectually interested in Scot than connected with him at an emotional level. Only towards the end of the story he seems to come to reflect and appreciate the importance of engaging with people and the help others have given him through the years, but there is little in the way of connection to other human beings, and that perhaps is where he fails (for me) in the role of hero. His weaknesses seem to come only from his illness and, perhaps, from his single dedication to knowledge, that results in others less qualified getting into important positions likely to influence events more than he can. (There are warnings about the risks he faces from early on, but he dismisses them and only comes to realise they were right later in his life). Women also play very little part in the story (apart from mentions of his mother —the most significant— and the wives of some of the characters, only in passing), and other than a comment about their role according to a philosopher, towards the end, this is not a book about them, and we learn close to nothing about their lives.
We know what the end will be from the beginning, but most people will enjoy seeing Scot get some redress (even if it is a case of too little, too late). The author’s note at the end of the book explains her interest and reasons for writing the book, and also her sources, which I am sure, will be useful to many readers who will want to explore the topic in more detail.
Overall, this is a book I’ve enjoyed, and I recommend it to people interested in XIII century European history, especially in the struggles for power and knowledge, the interaction between the different religions, and the influence of the various centres of learning. It is sobering to realise that attitudes have changed so little in some scores, and how even the seemingly most enlightened civilisations are (and have been) afraid of intellectual enquiry, knowledge, and research, as if, indeed, they believed it to be a poisoned apple. Attempts at keeping the population under control by limiting their access to knowledge (or by manipulating the information they are given access to) are not new and, unfortunately, never seem to go out of fashion. Not a light read, but one sure to make readers want to learn more about the period and the man.
Was this review helpful?
Thankfully, the myth which wants us to believe that the medieval period was simply a “dark age” of ignorance and superstition is no longer taken seriously – at least by objective historians. The 12th and 13th centuries, in particular, were a fecund time in the quest for knowledge, as Christian philosophers rediscovered Aristotle via the writings of Arabic commentators such as Averroes and Avicenna and, through interaction with Jewish and Muslim thinkers, strove to build a corpus of knowledge on these “classical” foundations.

This is not to say, of course, that medieval scholars had it easy. Whilst universities, operating under the auspices of the Catholic Church, were recognised centres of research and knowledge, the same Church also saw itself as an enforcer of orthodoxy. And the boundary the orthodox and the heretical was hardly set in stone – suffice it to say that Thomas Aquinas, now considered the Catholic theologian par excellence was, for a time, regarded with suspicion, as being too “Aristotelian” in approach. This was also a politically fraught time – the Holy Roman Emperor was often at loggerheads with the Papacy (whose “temporal” powers were on a par with those of any other secular leader); alliances were notoriously fluid, and the coexistence of different cultures and religions was, at best, uneasy and, at worst, could lead to bloodshed.

Elizabeth Mac Donald’s engrossing debut novel “A Matter of Interpretation” brings the Middle Ages vividly to life through a “fictional biography” of historical figure Michael Scot (1175 – c. 1232). Born in the Scottish Borders, Canon Scot acquired early fame as a scholar in the University of Paris. MacDonald’s novel traces the trajectory of his career – from his Paris days, to his appointment as tutor to the young Emperor Frederick II, his subsequent sojourns in Spain and Sicily, and his late work at the behest of the Emperor. Scot was a well-known figure in intellectual circles and, in his own lifetime, had already acquired notoriety as an astrologer and wizard. Boccaccio portrays Scot as a necromancer and, in the Divine Comedy, Dante consigns him, with other ‘false prophets’ to the Eighth Circle of Hell. Dark legends about Scot have him feasting with friends on food brought by magic from the royal courts of France and Spain. The truth, however, is likely more prosaic. Many scientists up to the early modern period explored areas of knowledge which we would now consider dubious and superstitious, such as alchemy and astrology. As Ma cDonald’s novel makes clear, Scot was no exception, and several of his manuscripts dealt with esoteric subjects. However, Scot was also rightly celebrated as a translator of Aristotelian texts such as Historia Animalium and De Coelo and of Averroean commentaries on the Greek philosopher. Scot was also a pioneer in the study of mathematics and physiognomy.

Mac Donald has evidently researched her subject in depth. A wealth of historical detail lends authenticity to her novel and, even when the author’s imagination takes over, the narrative remains within the parameters of the possible. The Michael Scot we meet in the book’s pages is neither a two-dimensional bygone figure, nor the fantastical wizard of legend. He comes across as a credible, flesh-and-blood character, a complex man who is continually struggling to reconcile faith and reason, and to balance his monastic obligations and the call of (sometimes forbidden) knowledge. This is expressed in the movingly poetic Confessio of the final pages, in which MacDonald gives voice to Scot himself:

Life is a gossamer web of paradox. For as long as my eyes are fixed on God, knowledge helps to give this intricate whole meaning; as soon as knowledge becomes an end in itself, it is as if the thread holding me had separated from the whole. And I must then cling to it all the more desperately, at any moment fearing to fall. It is not God’s wish that we hide from knowledge. He gave us the parable of the talents. If we hide from knowledge, we hide also from truth. We should also be mindful of the ultimate purpose of knowledge. I was not, and it shrivelled me.

Through Scot’s eyes and his friendships we also learn about his world, one as paradoxical as the man itself.

Many historical novelists try to achieve authenticity through deliberately old-fashioned language which, more often than not, has absolutely nothing to do what would have really been spoken by the protagonists. Mac Donald avoids this and opts instead for a contemporary idiom. This approach works, giving her narrative an immediacy and directness that is far more effective than a distracting cod-archaic style. Like Scot, she translates the knowledge and experiences of a bygone age into a story which can resonate with contemporary readers.

For an illustrated version of the review, including a playlist of related music to listen to, head over to my blog:

https://endsoftheword.blogspot.com/2019/09/elizabeth-macdonald-matter-of-interpretation.html
Was this review helpful?
I really enjoyed her exploration of this time period and subject matter. It felt very well researched and authentic.
Was this review helpful?
Set in the 13th century, this is the story of a monk named Michael Scot, a Scottish monk who studied in Paris then is sent to Sicily to serve as a tutor to the future Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II. When he learns of the writings of Greek philosopher named Aristotle, Frederick commissions Michael Scot to translate these works. As he works with both Muslim and Jewish translators in Moorish Spain and translates more and more works from Arabic, his eyes are opened to the world beyond Catholicism. But when the Pope condemns these works as heretical, Michael Scot finds it difficult to stop. Is there a balance to be found between faith and reason? 

I loved all of the different settings in the book, from Moorish Spain to Norman Sicily to medieval Paris and more. I feel like these settings, especially in the medieval time period, aren’t often written about so I love when authors step outside the box and write about these lesser known times. There was a lot of research put into this book, and I enjoyed the author’s note at the end describing what got her interested in writing the book. I also enjoyed the portrayal of the struggle between knowledge vs religion. We got to see characters from each religion (Catholic, Jewish, and Islam) deal with this issue which I found interesting. 

However, I felt at times the 3rd person perspective didn’t allow me to fully connect to the story. Rather than getting perspectives from many characters, I would have preferred to focus on just a few to really get immersed in the world. There were some characters that didn’t feel fully fleshed out due to this and felt unnecessary to have perspectives from. Some events seemed too drawn out which caused the book to be a slow read. Overall, I enjoyed learning about Michael Scot since he was an influential figure in European history, but it wasn’t compelling enough to fully draw me in. Thank you to NetGalley for the advance copy in exchange for an honest review.
Was this review helpful?
When I saw this book on NetGalley, I debated for a few minutes on whether I should request it or not because I had absolutely no knowledge of the setting or the historical events and if I am being honest I don’t have all the facts even now but I requested it. And I am glad to have read this because it really is such a good enjoyable book. I think I saw it being compared with The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco and if that book is anything like this then trust me, it’s on the way to my TBR.

So Michael Scot, Frederick II and others are real people that existed and though their lives might not have gone in exactly the same fashion as the author has written it. I genuinely enjoyed the way she wrote them. Historical facts when mixed with fiction have been known to have disastrous results but in this one, it isn’t so. I read up a bit on Michael Scot and that man sounds absolutely amazing and that there should be a book about him doesn’t seem so surprising after that.

The book has an interesting start,  a stone falls from the ceiling of a Sicilian hermitage and from there, it’s a ride. As I read more and more, I came to understand a few things such as how Michael Scot of Scotland went to university in Paris and then tutored Frederick II of Sicily. It was at the instigation of the emperor that Scot went to Spain to translate Aristotle’s writings. This is where it gets really interesting and exciting.

The Church found the whole thing to be heretic and did not find Michael Scot or his deeds welcome. The translators seemed to be objectionable to the Church as well. It is true that if what Michael Scot wrote was any indication of where his studies and observations were taking him then the Church was never going to stand for it.

There is so much I should talk about but I will limit it to this. There’s a lot of political intrigue and accusations of heresy and necromancy. Yes, because anything factual or even remotely scientific in nature was allergic for the Church at the time.

If there were things that gave me pause while I was trying to rate it on GoodReads then it might be that the drama and intrigue could have been a bit more deftly handled and that there were a bit more emotionally invested moments, you know? I wasn’t super tense while I read it but there were moments where it could have really worked.

Overall, I did thoroughly enjoy it because the plot and the characters do make it impossible to put it down and I can’t wait to read more from the author because the level of research and details in this one shone through. It made for an interesting and enjoyable read when it could have easily been otherwise!

Fans of historical dramas filled with facts would enjoy this a lot, I think.
Was this review helpful?
Michael Scot - who I hadn't come across before - is a fascinating character.  In the 13th century he travelled from Scotland, via Oxford and Paris to Sicily where he became tutor to the future Holy Roman Emperor.  He then travelled to Spain, which was still Moorish, to translate documents which he felt were important, and indeed they were - especially in the field of medicine.   He pursued knowledge and was regarded as one of the greatest intellects of his time.  
Elizabeth MacDonald has introduced us to Scot, and tells an interesting tale well.

Recommended for fans of historical fiction, intellectual endeavour.
Was this review helpful?
Set at the beginning of the thirteenth century, A Matter of Interpretation focuses on the character of Michael Scott, mathematician, tutor and court astrologer to the Holy Roman Emperor, Frederick II. 

At a time of conflict between empire and papacy, Scott's translations of the works of Arab scholars, and, in particular, their commentaries on Aristotle, cause him to be suspected of heresy by the ecclesiastical establishment, a suspicion that is only reinforced by his strikingly unconventional personality.

This is a novel of ideas, and, as such, it makes considerable demands upon the reader. The world at the beginning of the High Middle Ages is often alien to contemporary minds. Nonetheless, it's the background out of which the modern Western world evolved. Elizabeth MacDonald's imaginative recreation of Michael Scott's speculations are fascinating, therefore, for their depiction of the intellectual climate in Europe at a time of huge transformation. Importantly, she manages to frame the debate within a lively and atmospheric piece of storytelling.  

Ambitious, illuminating and entertaining, this is historical fiction doing what it does best..
Was this review helpful?
An engrossing story, well-written and interesting.  This is not a period of history with which I am familiar, and I was  completely gripped by this book.
Was this review helpful?