The Sky's Dark Labyrinth by Stuart Clark

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The Sky's Dark Labyrinth by Stuart Clark

Category: Historical Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Louise Laurie
Reviewed by Louise Laurie
Summary: We're in 17th century Europe and massive changes are taking place. Two men, German Kepler and Italian Galilei have startling discoveries regarding all things astronomical which will upset current thinking - but are they brave enough to forge forward anyway?
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Maybe
Pages: 272 Date: May 2011
Publisher: Polygon
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-1846971747

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This book is heavily based on fact. All of the characters are real people - apart from one. Some of us may be familiar with the names of Galileo Galilei and Johannes Kepler (due to the importance of their respective work, both men are afforded healthy chunks in my Oxford English Dictionary). Clark also has a rather impressive working CV including holding a Fellowship of the Royal Astronomical Society. But what I personally really liked and appreciated was the line on the book's front cover which said Knowledge can be a dangerous thing.

So I think that you can gauge from my initial paragraph that, although this is a work of fiction, it really is fact-based first and foremost and then, almost as an afterthought, why not throw in a bit of fiction to make it more palatable for the reading majority. This was the impression I had gained after I had read the whole book. But will this strategy work? Time to find out ...

The story opens in Rome. A couple of well-dressed and well-fed (and you could also say pampered) high-level religious men are going about the Vatican's business. They're walking through poor and sewage-littered streets but don't really give the people who live there a moment's thought. Apparently someone is about to die a horrible death for their beliefs. It's heresy on the prisoner's part. And on top of that, he's extremely stupid as it's a well-known fact that Only Vatican theologians are permitted to interpret the scriptures. And so we enter the turmoil of Europe several centuries past, when witches were burned alive, for example.

We're soon introduced to one of the two main characters, Kepler. He's not had an easy time lately and that's putting it mildly but his fortunes seem to be changing for the better for himself and his family. He's about to embark on a new and exciting project. Clark retraces some of Kepler's background and it tells us that Kepler is a man of strong beliefs (but are they the right ones?) and also a man of principle.

And as the narration develops and unfolds with Clark's fluent but scholarly style, I felt almost bombarded at times with facts, data, opinions and the like. And it had the effect of making the fiction side of the book a tad invisible. I really did feel as if I was reading a textbook on astronomy for most of the book. I did however, come across snippets of interesting information, such as that the twelve constellations (or signs, if you like) of the zodiac corresponds with parts of the human body.

So, is this where astronomy/astrology and medicine meet? Or perhaps clash? We discover that despite Kepler's rather impoverished and unsettled home life, he tries very hard to blank out all domestic matters and trivialities and concentrate totally on the job in hand. It takes up all his time. There's not enough hours in the day for him. His job is important, very important but it's also beset with problems which Clark explains fully and concisely (there's that textbook feel again). And indeed the book is littered with associated language: the sun, the various stars, constellations, the moon etc. There's also a flavour of the religious times back then with mentions such as Jesuits, cardinals, Lutherans as well as the pope. Clark is passionate about his subject, there's no doubt about that.

And when Galilei is introduced later in the novel, there's plenty of friction between him and Kepler. But why? Can it be resolved? But what is really interesting in amongst this dearth of astronomical data and rather dry facts (unless your interest equals Clark's) is that many intelligent and learned men of the era simply refused point blank to open up their minds to alternative thinking. As Kepler said himself God had given men minds to use, not to surrender them to blind obedience. Overall, this book will appeal to those with a strong interest in the universe and all things astronomical.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.

If this book appeals then you might also like to try Quantum Theory Cannot Hurt You by Marcus Chown.

Buy The Sky's Dark Labyrinth by Stuart Clark at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Sky's Dark Labyrinth by Stuart Clark at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy The Sky's Dark Labyrinth by Stuart Clark at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Sky's Dark Labyrinth by Stuart Clark at Amazon.com.


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