The Brotherhood of Book Hunters

Written by Raphaël Jerusalmy
Review by James Hawking

Louis XI wants Paris to be the center of the book trade that is emerging after Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press. To this end, he enlists Francois Villon to make contact with a secret society of book collectors who preserve Jewish wisdom, Greek learning, and, most especially, the last words of Jesus. Villon travels to Acre and other sites in a land ruled by Mamluks and guarded by Mongol mercenaries. Villon encounters monks, rabbis, Medicis, members of the Columbus family, and the successors of the Essenes. Improbably, he dazzles everybody, including the beauty assigned to spy on him, by reciting his poetry in French, a language few of his listeners understand. The adventures move through Italy before returning to France where the Spider King is uniting his kingdom by outwitting and overpowering his over-mighty subjects.

Loving descriptions of medieval manuscripts and incunabula lend color to the novel. The rogue-poet Villon is one of the most fascinating figures from the 15th century, but he belongs to Paris and the Court of Miracles with its beggars and thieves. Taking him out of this environment makes as much sense as if the author had him visit aliens on another planet or time travel to New York.