Reviewed by Evangeline Jennings
Knowledge is power. Not a new idea, but one given very fresh legs by Irene Soldatos in Bad Bishop – a splendidly written epic fantasy that explores history, politics, war, and possibly the nature of divinity itself through a glass darkly provided by her Algul – or vampire – creations and their carefully planned centuries-long power plays and merciless machinations.
In a world largely unseen by man, Algul princes and emperors vie for dominion and influence while others nurse secret grudges and bide their time. Soldatos’ Great Game is an almost eternal chess match played out by true grandmasters whose patience and subtlety is rivaled only by their utter savagery.
The board they’re playing on is Medieval Europe. Christianity has replaced the old Gods – cathedrals stand on land that once was home to temples – Islam is taking root, and the prelate Atreus is dedicated to preserving both lost knowledge and peace between his kind, who trace their bloodlines back to those old Gods.
The opening move is a murder in Dijon.
The end game is the biggest secret of all.
At heart, Bad Bishop is simply a murder mystery. Or a political thriller. But it’s also a book you can lose yourself in, at several different levels simultaneously. At maybe a quarter of a million words, Bad Bishop exists on an extravagant and demanding scale, but the beauty is in its detail. Its world is perfectly formed, fully realized, and entirely sparkle-free. The story is enthralling. The writing is precise and captivating. The language and ideas glorious. And a halfway astute reader will draw parallels with what’s happening in the world today, because more than anything else, Bad Bishop is about the power of knowledge and what can happen when it’s lost or abused.
I spent three centuries leaving copies of Archimedes’s Method in every abbey and priory I could find, before admitting defeat. Three centuries! I even translated it into Latin. Do you know what became of all these copies, Atreus? I checked. Every single one. They were meticulously scraped, and washed, and are now nonsensical theological treatises, and fantastical saints’ lives. Because, naturally, these are a great deal more important than understanding how to erect a building that won’t fall down and kill everyone in it!