Last Week on Inked Brownies

‘The Relic Master: A Novel’ by Christopher Buckley


Kindle Edition, 256 pages
Published December 8th 2015 by Simon & Schuster

The question I asked myself after (and while) reading this book was: why am I not reading more historical fiction? I love history. I studied history. I love fiction. Dudes!

The Goodreads synopsis:

The year is 1517. Dismas is a relic hunter: one who procures “authentic” religious relics for wealthy and influential clients. His two most important patrons are Frederick the Wise, Elector of Saxony and soon-to-be Cardinal Albrecht of Mainz. While Frederick is drawn to the recent writing of Martin Luther, Albrecht pursues the financial and political benefits of religion and seeks to buy a cardinalship through the selling of indulgences. When Albrecht’s ambitions increase his demands for grander and more marketable relics, Dismas and his artist friend Dürer conspire to manufacture a shroud to sell to the unsuspecting noble. Unfortunately, Dürer’s reckless pride exposes Albrecht’s newly acquired shroud as a fake, so Albrecht puts Dismas and Dürer in the custody of four loutish mercenaries and sends them all to steal Christ’s burial cloth (the Shroud of Chambéry), Europe’s most celebrated relic.

On their journey to Savoy where the Shroud will be displayed, they battle a lustful count and are joined by a beautiful female apothecary. It is only when they reach their destination that they realize they are not alone in their intentions to acquire a relic of dubious legitimacy. Filled with fascinating details about art, religion, politics and science; Vatican intrigue; and Buckley’s signature wit, The Relic Master is a delightfully rich and intelligent comic adventure.

This blurb really only gives a general outline of the story; the entire thing is so much more enjoyable! Dismas, a previous mercenary turned into a relic hunter, is living a good life. His two employers are both wealthy men of great importance. There’s Frederick III, elector of Saxony, who is basically a nice guy with a huge collection of relics. Dismas’ second employer is Albrecht von Brandenburg, archbishop of Magdeburg, electorate of Mainz, and, in 1518, also made cardinal (at the age of 28!). He is the counterpart of Frederick, really, being an awful guy who doesn’t mind to execute people just for the hell of it.

When Albrecht is becoming a real pain in the butt and Dismas finds out that his money has been stolen, he and his best friend Dührer, a painter, conjure up a plan to make a copy of the holy death shroud of Jesus and pass if off as the real thing to Albrecht, making the two friends not having to worry about financial problems anymore.
Sadly for them, Albrecht finds out it’s a fake and, as a penance, sends them on a quest to steal the shroud of the duke of Savoy, which is rumoured to be the real deal. Dismas and Dührer then find themselves hopping from adventure to adventure in a hilarious way in order to steal the shroud and survive it.

When I read the synopsis on Netgalley, I thought it would be more of a comedy with an adventurous twist, yet it turned out to be more of an adventure with a comedic twist. So when I use the term ‘hilarious’, it’s not that I was rolling on the floor laughing, but more that I was chuckling behind my hand while being pleasantly entertained.

The historical parts are accurate (I double checked) and I thought it was so cool to read the scientific facts on the whole shroud business in the appendix. This could be a true story! Or well, probably is, to a certain extent.

I had great fun in reading it! It is CHOCK-full of history, but never becomes dull, repetitive or, you know, feel like you’re reading a history textbook. There’s plenty of dialogue to counter the historical facts and, even better, the majority of the dialogue is pretty witty as well. Imagine a medieval setting where people say things like “Fucking hell” or “Go fuck yourselves”. Very refreshing eh?

The characters are lovely. Dismas and Dührer are the two main characters and evenly matched. Dührer’s absurd behaviour is hilarious. As for the secondary characters, my favourite would probably be chamberlain Rostang, who ends all of his sentences with a ‘Mm!’. They’re all delightful, though! I have to say there’s only one female character of significance, but…she’s a total badass, so we’re good Mr.Buckley.

There’s a lot of travelling back and forth in the book, but the travelling process itself is hardly being described, which I considered to be a good thing after the endless travelling descriptions I came across in my Fantasy novels recently.

I can recommend this book if you like to read about medieval Europe and if you like things to be told in an unconventional way. I can recommend it even more if you don’t mind a little swearing, a little gory violence and/or a bit of vulgarity.

As a negative point of criticism, my ARC was FULL of typos and punctuation errors. It sometimes made it really hard to read properly, but, I can’t complain about that too much because it WAS an ARC.

Even though the similarities only apply to them both being medieval and witty, I had to think about this quite often while reading:


Mind you, it’s nothing like Monty Python and the style of humour is different, but…you must find…another shroud shrubbery!

An ARC of this book was provided by Simon & Schuster via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

brownie2brownie2brownie2 brownie2


Links to the book:

Amazon UK

Amazon US


About Anne (231 Articles)
Dutch book reviewer who reviews in English. Grammar nazis beware!! I like brownies. And chamomile tea.

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