This piece was originally written for the Manhattan Book Review.
Set in Europe at the dawn of the Protestant Reformation and spanning multiple countries, Profane Fire at the Altar of the Lord has all the trappings of a promising historical novel: colourful characters, courtly intrigue, and religious conflict.
Despite an interesting premise, poor craftsmanship is this book’s downfall. Much of the book reads like history rather than historical fiction. Maley throws fact after fact at the reader, with little effort to smoothly incorporate any of it into the story line. Sentences are recycled more or less word-for-word throughout different chapters, speaking to a sloppy editing job. As if that weren’t enough, the book is littered with spelling errors left and right—an instance of “last rites” misspelled as “last rights” being among the worst examples.
At times, one has the impression of reading the script to an action film rather than a novel; a comically unrealistic scene reminiscent of Pirates of the Caribbean sees protagonist Diogo chased through the streets of Lisbon before managing to evade capture by jumping onto a departing ship. The juxtaposition of these slapstick sequences with other passages of somber historical details lends the book a disjointed quality.
With a greater effort at worldbuilding and a more scrutinizing eye, Profane Fire has the potential to be an exciting work, but in its current form, the book holds very little merit.
Rating: 1/5 ★Written on June 30th, 2018 by Kelly Zhang
(c) kelly zhang 2018