The Book of Splendor

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Frances Sherwood’s reputation as a historical novelist was established with her debut novel Vindication (1993), a compelling portrait of eighteenth century feminist and author Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley. In her second novel, Green (1995), Sherwood created a tragicomic portrait of a young woman’s sexual awakening amid the counterculture of northern California during the 1950’s. Her third novel, The Book of Splendor, is set against the social and political turmoil of seventeenth century Prague.

Sherwood develops three principal narratives that interconnect throughout the novel: the increasingly volatile and dangerous Emperor Rudolph II’s obsession with immortality, the physical and emotional evolution of Rochel, a young Jewish seamstress, and the creation of a golem, a supernatural being conjured from the earth by the famous Rabbi Loew to protect Prague’s Jewish population from attack by the city’s Christian population. It is Rochel’s doomed romance with the Golem, however, that forms the primary dramatic focus of the novel.

The Book of Splendor incorporates an imaginative cast of fictional and historical characters, including Rabbi Loew, Emperor Rudolph II, English alchemists John Dee and Edward Kelley imported by Rudolph to create an elixir of eternal life, and the astronomers Tycho Brahe and Johannes Kepler. Sherwood’s vivid depictions of Prague at the turn of the seventeenth century and her compelling portrait of the impossible love between a passionate and surprisingly modern young woman and the Golem, her mystical lover, make The Book of Splendor a richly creative and thoughtful work of fiction.