You may remember from a post of mine a couple of weeks ago that I was reading Buckley’s latest, Judge Hunter. I enjoyed that book so much I basically turned around and pulled Relic Master right off the shelf and dug in.
Relic Master has a lot of the same features I loved about Judge Hunter. There is Buckley’s ever present sense of humor, a quest that requires moving through a fascinating historical setting and interesting characters.
The story starts in 1517 Germany at the very beginning of the Protestant reformation. Dismas is an ex-mercenary from Switzerland turned relic hunter who prides himself on his ability to get what he believes to be authentic religious relics for discerning clients. Among these clients are the Frederick Elector of Saxony and Cardinal Albrecht of Mainz. In a desperate moment Dismas decides to fake a relic. With the help of his friend the painter Durer they make and pass off a fake shroud of Jesus to Albrecht. Unfortunately, Albrecht find out and dispatches Dismas and Durer to steal another shroud (the shroud Jesus was wrapped in are apparently a dime a dozen) from the Dutchy of Savoy. Dismas, Durer and a team that includes three Landsknechts (German mercenaries) and a condemned witch head for Savoy only to discover they aren’t the only ones who want the shroud.
This story does a great job of giving the reader the feel of Protestant reformation Germany. There are unscrupulous indulgence sellers, murderous bandits roaming the countryside, corrupt Popes and more. Still he keeps it fast paced so you never get bogged down. He also does a really good job of explaining things like relics and indulgences to a modern audience in a way that doesn’t pull you out of the action.