Synopses & Reviews
An ancient mystery, a lost letter, and a timeless love unleash a long-buried web of intrigue that spans four centuries
In the late sixteenth century, five brilliant scholars gather under the cloak of darkness to discuss God, politics, astronomy, and the black arts. Known as the School of Night, they meet in secret to avoid the wrath of Queen Elizabeth. But one of the men, Thomas Harriot, has secrets of his own, secrets he shares with one person only: the servant woman he loves.
In modern-day Washington, D.C., disgraced Elizabethan scholar Henry Cavendish has been hired by the ruthless antiquities collector Bernard Styles to find a missing letter. The letter dates from the 1600s and was stolen by Henry's close friend, Alonzo Wax. Now Wax is dead and Styles wants the letter back.
But the letter is an object of interest to others, too. It may be the clue to a hidden treasure; it may contain the long-sought formula for alchemy; it most certainly will prove the existence of the group of men whom Shakespeare dubbed the School of Night but about whom little is known. Joining Henry in his search for the letter is Clarissa Dale, a mysterious woman who suffers from visions that only Henry can understand. In short order, Henry finds himself stumbling through a secretive world of ancient perils, caught up in a deadly plot, and ensnared in the tragic legacy of a forgotten genius.
“a compelling literary thriller” – Library Journal (starred)
"Fascinating…A few codes and cryptograms are all you need to get caught up in an enigmatic mystery like The School of Night." -The New York Times Book Review
“Exhilarating…Bayard adds twist after satisfying twist... 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
"Rich and rewarding...Mr. Bayard writes seamless prose and conjures the past with credibility."—The Wall Street Journal
"[A] superb intellectual thriller...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." -Publishers Weekly (starred)
"[A] compelling literary thriller" - Library Journal (starred)
"An entertaining intelligent thriller…fast-paced [with] several superb twists." -The Mystery Gazette
"[D]eftly rendered. . . . Bayard (The Black Tower, 2008, etc.) blends luminaries of history, lost treasure, intrigue and a double-twist conclusion into a highly readable concoction." - Kirkus Review
"Bayards latest. . . interweaves the antic comedy of the modern-day caper with the tragic and affecting love story of the past." - Booklist
“Bayard has crafted a deft, immensely engaging, and in the end, surprisingly moving novel” - James Williams, popmatters.com
About the Author
Louis Bayard is the author of The Black Tower, the national bestseller The Pale Blue Eye, and Mr. Timothy, a New York Times Notable Book. A former staff writer for Salon.com, Bayard has written articles and reviews for The New York Times, The Washington Post, Nerve.com, and Preservation, among other publications. He lives in Washington, D.C.
Reading Group Guide
1. Bayard draws many parallels between the worlds of Thomas Harriot and Henry Cavendish. What does Henry Cavendish have in common with the philosophers in the School of Night? Do you think he would he have been invited to attend their meetings, if they were alive at the same time?
2. Imagine you were a member of the School of Night. What treasure would you try to protect? Why?
3. Margaret and Clarissa are both very strong women—one in mind, one in body. How are they similar? How are they different?
4. Had you heard of Thomas Harriot and the School of Night prior to reading this book? If so, did this change your opinion of him? What about the other players in the School of Night? How did this novel inform your knowledge of their roles in history?
5. On page 69, Ralegh writes: “I could find no better plaster for my wounds than memory. In parlous times, it is great joy to think upon that homely School, where we were glad to gather.” How does this quotation apply to each character in the novel?
6. The concepts of marriage and love are important throughout the novel. Discuss the different types of marriages we see and how the idea of marriage affects the individual characters (Harriot, Margaret, Henry, Clarissa, the Gollivers, etc.).
7. How did Alonzos fake death help Henry and the group solve the mystery of the School of Night? How did it hurt them?
8. A fallen academic, Henry Cavendish is a man grasping with his past and trying to save face throughout the story. What do you think of his excitement upon reading Raleghs letters first page? What do you think Henry has learned (or not learned) by the novels close?
9. What did you think about the books ending? Would you have ended it differently?
10. Discuss the nature of fact versus fiction in The School of Night. You may wish to take this opportunity to bring in other historical novels youve read (as a group or on your own).
11. Why do modern readers enjoy novels about the past? How and when can a powerful piece of fiction be a history lesson in itself?
12. We are taught, as young readers, that every story has a “moral.” Is there a moral to The School of Night? What can we learn about our world—and ourselves—from both Harriot and Henrys stories?