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Virgin and the Crab by Robert Parry

Posted By Claire on October 12, 2009

The Virgin and the CrabIsn’t it a wonderful thing when a novel actually transports you to another place and time? Well, this historical novel does just that and is just the thing to read this autumn (fall) with a mug of hot chocolate or a nice glass of wine.

“Virgin and the Crab: Sketches, Fables and Mysteries from the Early Life of John Dee and Elizabeth Tudor” tells the story of John Dee, a real man not a fictional character, and a man who was both a friend and adviser to Queen Elizabeth I. He was seen as one of the most learned men of his age, being accomplished in mathematics, astronomy, navigation and astrology, but what was interesting about Dee was that he straddled the worlds of academia and magic. He was both a scientist and a magician. A renowned mathematician and astrologer. A philosopher and an alchemist. A most interesting character to base a novel around!

The author, Robert Parry, does a wonderful job at bringing his central character to life. I was left imagining John Dee as a mixture of Derren Brown, Patrick Jane/Simon Baker from The Mentalist, Paul McKenna, Einstein, Galileo and James Bond. He is a master of disguise, the perfect spy, a teacher, philosopher, free thinker, hypnotist, magician and most importantly a fiercely loyal friend. In short, he is someone you want and need on your side!

The novel takes the reader from the death of Henry VIII all the way to the accession of his daughter Elizabeth I. It is amazing that the novel can catalogue such a huge chunk of history, with the reigns of Edward VI, Lady Jane Grey and Mary I, without seeming rushed or lacking in detail. As Anne Boleyn Files visitor, Rochie, says in her Squidoo lens on the novel (see, “its cast of characters reads like a Who’s Who of Tudor England” and includes characters like Roger Ascham, William Cecil, Robert Dudley, John Dudley, Blanche Parry, Thomas Parry, the Seymour brothers, Philip of Spain and four Tudor monarchs. What is brilliant for Tudor “novices” is the “list of players” at the beginning so that the reader knows who everyone is and I love the way that the novel is split into acts, like you are part of a magical play.

But why the title “Virgin and the Crab”?

The title refers to the astrology signs of the Virgin (Virgo) and teh Crab (Cancer). The Virgin is of course the Virgin Queen Elizabeth I and the Crab is her trusted friend and confidante John Dee who first meets Elizabeth in the Prologue as a child crying over the death of Katherine Howard. A deep friendship is forged between the two of them which endures through much suffering and turmoil, including imprisonment in the Tower of London. What I love about the two of them is the way they communicate: their secret messages sent through bunches of wild flowers – brilliant!

I won’t spoil this magical novel by telling you any more about it but let’s see if it passes my historical fiction test:-

  1. Is it “unputdownable”? – A resounding “yes”! It grips you and pulls you into the story completely.
  2. Does it make you want to research the characters more? – Another deafening “yes”! John Dee will now be researched in detail for the Elizabeth Files.
  3. Is it believable? – Yes, yes, yes! Robert Parry has blended historical facts with fiction to produce an incredibly believable story. All of the characters could walk straight out of the book and he has obviously meticulously researched events, people and places.

All in all, I would highly recommend this novel for people who love a story based on real events and people but who find that some historical fiction takes too many liberties. With its 480+ pages, this book will keep you busy and entertained many an autum or winter night!

Further Details

Title: Virgin and the Crab
Author: Robert Parry
Genre: Historical fiction
ISBN: 1449515711
Publication date: April 2009
Publisher: CreateSpace
Pages: 490
Price: $14.73

It is available from Amazon US (click on book cover above to buy now) or from various sellers on Amazon UK.

The blurb on Amazon says:

“The brilliant young mathematician and astronomer John Dee has one overwhelming obsession: liberty. Abandoned and humiliated, Elizabeth Tudor has one simple aim: survival. What will happen when these two are thrown together by circumstances neither can anticipate or control?

This is their story as Dee and the mysterious brotherhood of the Rose Lodge – working against almost insurmountable odds and threatened by a vengeful and unforgiving Queen – attempt to guide the nation towards enlightenment and stability. Here, a parallel universe of secrecy and faith is revealed in which the unseen forces of nature support all that is visible and real – a place, too, where the special alchemy of the Virgin and the Crab works its magic, growing from childhood friendship, through adolescent flirtation to mutual respect and admiration as together they prepare to sacrifice everything for the world they wish to inherit. “One of the most extraordinary and yet untold relationships of the Tudor age.””


5 Responses to “Virgin and the Crab by Robert Parry”

  1. Marie Burton says:

    Oh wow, sounds like a great book, and 480 pages the author has done his research!!
    I’ll have to put this one on the list, Dee had always intrigued me when reading about Elizabeth. This is indeed one of those untold stories that I will have to pursue. And bad Claire ~ Now I won’t be able to get Simon Baker out of my head!

  2. Claire says:

    I can’t say enough good things about this book, Marie, it really is brilliant. Ha, Simon Baker is rather nice! Do you know Derren Brown? He’s a British mentalist who has just caused a stir by predicting the lottery numbers.

  3. Cynthia says:

    I’ll have to check this one out. I’ve gone through my public library’s roster already and it’s down to buying the books now.

  4. rochie says:

    I’ve read it already. And I love it too. Great review – because, yes, Dee is a very modern kind of figure. But there is a wonderful ‘chivalric’ quality about him, don’t you think!. It was his loyalty and tenacity that were so touching. And fun too – actually a book that made me laugh as well as cry a little. And we also see a whole different side to Elizabeth, too – a softer, more tender and introspective side that was very believable, i thought. It really is good to see this wonderful story getting the kind of attention it deserves.

  5. […] Read my review of Robert Parry’s “Virgin and the Crab” – click here. […]

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