This is one of the best things Harris has written – a wonderfully original storyline set a far future that looks eerily like our distant past.
It is 1468 – not that 1468, when Henry V1 was King and the Wars of the Roses were in full flow. This 1468 is one-and-a-half millennia after the catastrophic collapse of what we like to think as our modern, indestructible world order. The calendar, like humankind, has had to start again from ground zero.
Whatever brought humanity to its knees is now a dim and distant memory. More than that, it is forbidden territory – terrible punishments await anyone who tries to study or understand the downfall of what went before. To do so is heresy; a terrible sin. Just what is the new establishment afraid of?
Christianity has survived the apocalypse. The book opens with a young priest, Christopher Fairfax, travelling on horseback to a remote Exmoor village to officiate at the funeral of his predecessor in the parish. We learn that the dead man was obsessed by the ancient past – a hobby strictly forbidden by the Church – collecting strange artefacts and relics.
Occasionally smooth oblongs with apple symbols still visible on them are discovered. People know they were some kind of communication devices but have no idea how they worked. Rumours that the ancients could fly, or travel at incredible speeds, are impossible for the Church to completely suppress.
Did the old priest die because of his fascination with a dead civilisation? Gradually, everything Fairfax thinks he knows about faith, history and even himself is shaken to its roots. Riveting stuff.