Once the world was not as it has since become. Once it worked in a way different from the way it works now...
Pierce Moffett is a teacher and historian who at midlife feels himself to be standing at a great turning point in the history of the world. As a child, Pierce was no stranger to magic, but those revelations faded with time. Now Pierce's search for a secret history of the world - one in which magic works and angels speak to humankind - has begun again.
Pierce finds clues offered to him in the unfinished last novel of a writer named Fellowes Kraft and in the real-life histories of the doomed Renaissance heretic Giordano Bruno and the Elizabethan magus John Dee. He will also find the secret history pervading his present in his involvement with two Roses: Rosie Rasmussen, guardian of the dead Kraft's legacy, and Rose Ryder, who will soon become his lover.
With this impressive if flawed sequel to the magisterial AEgypt (1987), Crowley offers another taste of his deeply intellectual brand of contemporary fantasy. As a boy, historian and writer Pierce Moffett developed a fascination with the occult, devouring tomes of arcane lore. Now Pierce has become increasingly convinced that, several times in history, the world has undergone a great transformation whereby the nature of things--the systems that govern its operation--have changed; where once alchemy and magic worked, now they don't. Digging through the papers of a favorite childhood novelist, Pierce discovers an unpublished manuscript that, set in the 16th century and tracking two real-life men of knowledge, seems to bolster his supposition that things were indeed once different. Several people are affected by his discovery--the woman he comes to care for; an epileptic child; a dying man seeking the philosopher's stone. It's not in the plot that the relative strengths of Crowley's book lie. Rather, it's in the breathtaking language, the rolling seductive sentences and the precision with which he evokes the sense of everyday life spiced with hints of mystical secrets. The problem, though, is that there's no proper payoff to all the portent. Crowley tries mightily, but he just can't pull off the miracle of creating his own philosopher's stone here. Still, if what he ends up with isn't quite gold, it glitters enough to keep readers involved. Major ad/promo.