Sorcerer: A Novel of Queen Elizabeth’s Alchemist
Dr. John Dee fascinates everybody, the ultimate absent-minded professor looking for angels and gold. Geoffrey James’ novel attempts to encompass this extraordinary man, whose quest to learn the ultimate secrets of the universe sent him over the edge in more ways than one.
To channel the spirits he felt hovering around him, Dee crammed his assistant, the shifty Edward Kelley, with hallucinogenics and took copious notes as Kelley rambled on about his visions. Gradually the visions told Dee to form a bizarre menage-à-quatre with Kelley and their two wives, high-born Jennet and stodgy Alice.
Sorcerer gets the whole practice of alchemy very well. James really knows this stuff (Dee left copious notes), and he makes it fascinating. The rest of the book suffers from a fabulous inattention. Dee flirts with magic in England, and then it’s off to Poland for some very odd sex, and then to Vienna for more odd sex, all the while pursued by the world’s most incompetent assassin, a maniac monk strongly reminiscent of Dan Brown’s Silas, except darker. The characters are shrewd or stupid as the narrative requires, and the text is full of typos and misprints and missing words. If you’re interested in John Dee, this is a way to learn more about him, but don’t expect a solid read.