The School of Night

the school of night, louis bayard

In his previous three novels, Louis Bayard created an astounding body of work about which the New York Times said he "reinvigorates historical fiction, rendering the nineteenth century as if he'd witnessed it firsthand." 

And now....The School of Night

King James I has just assumed the throne and Thomas Harriot, known as England's Galileo, ponders the universe from his modest home on his friend's estate. Measuring gravity almost 60 years before Newton, noting the pattern of a comet named, in the next century, by Halley, discovering the law of refraction. Harriot, the mathematician, astronomer, ethnographer and translator, is also a member of a group of five brilliant scholars who meet under the cloak of darkness to discuss God, politics and the black arts. When the estate provides him with a housekeeper, he has little idea how important she will become—in his studies and in his heart. 

In modern day Washington, D. C., disgraced Elizabethan scholar Henry Cavendish has been hired by a ruthless antiquities collector name Bernard Styles. It's rumored that Styles will do anything to get his hands on what he wants, including murder. But Henry is desperate for money and Styles has offered him a large sum to recover a letter he claims was stolen by Henry's oldest and dearest friend, Alonzo Wax. Henry overcomes both his suspicion of Styles and his bereavement over Alonzo's recent suicide and sets out on the trail of the missing letter. 

Joining Henry in his search is Clarissa Dale, a mysterious woman who suffers from visions that only Henry can understand. In short order, the pair find themselves stumbling through a secretive world of ancient perils, caught up in a deadly modern-day plot and ensnared in the tragic legacy of a forgotten genius and the woman he loved. 

In The School of Night, Bayard folds his two narratives around one another—two different centuries sharing one shocking secret—and creates a gripping story of mysteries and intrigue and a spellbinding portrait of timeless love. 



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Praise for The School of Night

"Bayard (The Black Tower) shifts smoothly between present-day America and Elizabethan England in this superb intellectual thriller. At the Washington, D.C., funeral of document collector Alonzo Wax, who committed suicide, Bernard Styles, an elderly Englishman and rival collector, approaches Henry Cavendish, an Elizabethan scholar and the executor of Wax's estate, whose academic reputation suffered grievous harm after he authenticated a new Walter Ralegh poem that was later exposed as a hoax. Styles offers Cavendish $100,000 to locate a prize Wax had borrowed, a recently discovered Ralegh letter that may prove the existence of the School of Night, a secret debating club whose members included playwright Christopher Marlowe. Murder complicates the search for the letter. The author's persuasive portrayal of undeservedly obscure real-life scientist Thomas Harriot, a member of the school, enhances a plot with intelligence and depth. (Apr.)"
   —Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"Bayard is known for his historical mysteries (Mr. Timothy, 2003;The Pale Blue Eye, 2006), and here he adds a different element to the mix by combining a plot set in the Elizabethan era with a modern-day story. It seems disgraced scholar Henry Cavendish's good friend, Alonzo Wax, a man of large appetites, has stolen a letter from ruthless antiquities collector Bernard Styles, who desperately wants it back. The letter purportedly contains a treasure map connected to the School of Night, a secretive intellectual club whose members included unheralded genius Thomas Harriot as well as Sir Walter Raleigh, who were well aware that discussing certain subjects in public could cost them their lives. As Henry tracks down the missing letter, Bayard intersperses the story of Harriot's great love affair with his beautiful servant turned scientific colleague, Margaret.... Bayard's latest is considerably humorous in tone as he interweaves the antic comedy of the modern-day caper with the tragic and affecting love story of the past."

"A few codes and cryptograms are all you need to get caught up in an enigmatic mystery like THE SCHOOL OF NIGHT, Louis Bayard's fabricated account of a secret society of brilliant Elizabethan thinkers who challenge conventional 16th-century wisdom by exercising "the freedom to speak their minds." Henry Cavendish, the 21st-century scholar who narrates the story, tumbles to this academic crew when an unscrupulous collector (who would "lay down his life for a Shakespeare quarto") hires him to search the archives of a fellow bibliophile who committed suicide. Leaving Henry to puzzle out the clues in the library, Bayard shifts the story to Tudor England, where members of the elite circle that meets at Sir Walter Ralegh's Dorset estate are immersed in their esoteric arts. From either perspective, the story is fascinating. And yes, there's a good reason that Shakespeare is not welcome in this company."
   —The New York Times

"Washington novelist Louis Bayard anticipates the question and tells readers upfront how The School of Night, a contemporary mystery infused with 16th-century history, flowed from a classic 21st-century time-waster: a day-trip around the Internet.... Bayard adds twist after satisfying twist to these interlocked tales. Tragic and jolting surprises keep the storylines zigzagging toward resolution. At its heart, The School of Night illuminates a glimpse into legend, assuring readers that this ancient classroom offered a curriculum heavy on secrets."
   —The Washington Post

"In The School of Night, Mr. Bayard's portrayal of Harriot is rich and rewarding. Through Margaret's eyes we get an indelible sense of ‘how many wonders are to be unearthed and concatenated’ by his secretive research into optics and astronomy. And their love story becomes nicely complicated when Margaret is tempted by a madness of her own—an obsession with alchemy.... Mr. Bayard writes seamless prose and conjures the past with credibility..."
   —The Wall Street Journal