Tag Archives: Rebecca Alexander

Review of The Secrets of Blood and Bone by Rebecca Alexander

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This sequel to the intriguing The Secrets of Life and Death follows the same format – a dual narrative in the viewpoint of Edward Kelley, former assistant to the famous Dr John Dee; and the contemporary strand in the voice of Jackdaw Hammond. Does this book build on the promise of the first one?

Venice, 16th century. Having undertaken a mission of the upmost discretion, occultist and scholar Edward Kelley finds the answers he seeks are more perilous than can be believed, and his ultimate salvation means confronting the darkest deeds of his past.

secretsofbloodandboneEngland, 21st century. Running from her past and hiding from her future, Jackdaw Hammond inherits an old house in the middle of nowhere. But her fresh start is threatened by a wild magic similar to her own. The legacy of Edward Kelley remains, and with their fates inexorably intertwined the battle for Jackdaw’s soul has just begun.

While you don’t have to have read the first book – see my review here – it certainly helped that I was already bonded to Jack and wanted her to succeed. This strand packs a punch – the overgrown cottage and rampant garden immediately caught my attention, as well as the fate of the previous owner… Alexander’s pacing and characterisation is more sure-footed in this book as we, once more, untangle a murder mystery and learn another aspect of supernatural creatures existing alongside the rest of us. While Jackdaw finds herself steadily changing as a consequence of actions that happened at the end of the first book.

I really enjoyed the progression of the characters throughout the book – Alexander is very good at following through the consequences of her protagonists’ adventures, which gives an interesting edge to this fantasy. The story took several completely unexpected twists, which had me hooked. The antagonists were also written with more immediacy – there was a constant sense of threat that steadily grew throughout the book, giving the climax a real punch.

Meanwhile, Edward Kelley is also following coping with the fallout resulting in his own actions as his studies lead him to Venice. His observations of Venetian life at the height of the city state’s power are enjoyable as he finds himself sucked into yet another scheme by a powerful family who need his skills.

As for the ending – well I certainly didn’t see that coming! It was a strong unexpected conclusion to a really enjoyable, outstanding read.
10/10

Review of The Secrets of Life and Death by Rebecca Alexander

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This is an ambitious genre mash-up – historical noir with a vampire theme entangled in a modern day murder investigation – does Alexander manage to pull it off?

secretsoflifeanddeath1585. When Edward Kelley and his master, Dr John Dee, discover a dark secret at the heart of the Countess Elizabeth Bathory’s illness, they fear the cure will prove more terrifying than death…

2013. When Jackdaw Hammond learns of a young women found dead on a train, her body covered in arcane symbols, she must finish what Kelley and Dee started, or die trying…

This book opens conventionally – with a university lecturer in some arcane studies called in to look at the symbols drawn all over the dead body of a teenage girl found on a train. But before this contemporary plot has a chance to get going, we are yanked back to 1585 where Edward Kelley and John Dee have travelled to Transylvanian forests on a mission to help a young Countess recover from a wasting disease. Their task is hampered by the fact they are Protestants travelling in a devout Catholic country – and they are further singled out by accusations of sorcery.

The book continues with a dual narrative – the modern day story being told in the viewpoint of Jack or Felix, the university lecturer, interspersed by the torrid time Edward Kelley and John Dee have in a particularly savage corner of Europe. There has been a fashion for dual narratives recently, and when done well, it isn’t hard to see why. The author can present the reader with two apparently unrelated plotlines that eventually come together in an interesting, hopefully memorable conclusion that creates a really satisfying read. My standout dual narrative read is Katherine Webb’s A Half-Forgotten Song, see my review here.

However, if the pacing isn’t absolutely nailed – or too many readers already know of your historical characters – then readers will skim either one or other of the plotlines. Himself nearly abandoned the book, complaining that he found the historical interlude dragged too much, while in other reviews I’ve read complaints about how slowly the contemporary plot develops.

I think there is certainly a potential problem if readers already know a fair amount about Elizabeth Bathory – the plot construction and pacing assumes readers don’t. However my own knowledge was sketchy and I am a sucker for well written historical adventures, anyhow. As for the contemporary plotline – Alexander’s pacing is more leisurely than a typical urban fantasy novel, and I suspect a number of readers picked it up thinking that was what they were getting – and this book is attempting to do something else. So to some extent, both narratives are slightly compromised by reader expectation not being fully met – which isn’t necessarily Alexander’s fault.

I enjoyed the historical adventure more than the contemporary strand until about halfway through when the pace picked up and the story developed a twist I hadn’t expected. At that stage, I sat back and went along for the ride, thoroughly enjoying the experience. I won’t claim it is a unique take on the vampire story – in many ways it goes right back to the roots of the legend, but if you are not thoroughly jaded by yet another adventure, this one does have a slightly unusual angle that certainly caught my interest. And sustained it sufficiently to go immediately looking for the sequel, The Secrets of Blood and Bone.

If you like enjoyable dual narratives and are up for vampires with an intriguing take on the whole blood imbibing subject, then give this ambitious debut novel a go – I think Alexander is One To Watch.
8/10