This offering came to my attention due to the excellent cover and really intriguing premise. As I knew a bit about the historical facts surrounding this turbulent time, I was interested to see how Brandes tackled it and integrated the magical elements.
Keepers think the Igniters caused the plague. Igniters think the Keepers did. But all Thomas knows is that the Stone Plague infecting his eye is spreading. And if he doesn’t do something soon, he’ll be a lifeless statue. So when his Keeper father, Guy Fawkes, invites him to join the Gunpowder Plot—claiming it will put an end to the plague—Thomas is in.
This is part of the chatty blurb, but you’ll gather there are two major magical factions. Both believe absolutely that their viewpoint is right and that if they don’t prevail, disaster will overtake the country. This point of view also sums up the attitudes of the religious differences prevailing at the time, which was the underlying cause of the Gunpowder Plot and is a nifty way of generating added interest in the religious divide that fractured the country for generations, but that our modern secular society finds difficult to understand. However, I did find it a bit of a problem. While I knew all about the differing beliefs of the Catholics and Protestants of the time, I wasn’t clear exactly how the colour system of magic operated. As James, the main protagonist, isn’t a magic-user, he doesn’t have an intimate knowledge of how it works and while I realised that white magic is the dealbreaker, I wasn’t sure what happened with the likes of teal and crimson, for instance. I was able to let this go for the sake of the story, but I did feel it was a weakness.
James’ determination to search out his absent father and persuade him to craft him a mask which would allow him to access his magical ability, snagged my sympathy – especially as that father happened to be Guido Fawkes. And once James tracks down his father, as we already know, his problems are only beginning. Elements from the actual plot are woven into this tense historical thriller, which I really enjoyed. But the character who really stole the show for me was Emma.
Personally, I would have preferred to have had the story told from her viewpoint as I think she was a stronger, feistier character who pinged off the page and whose story arc is more interesting than James. The problem with James is that he is only ever on the edge of the plot and spent much of the story grappling with the plague. I felt that Brandes got a tad overwhelmed with the sheer richness and complexity of the elements in her story and consequently, there was a stronger, more coherent version struggling to surface.
Nonetheless, Brandes is clearly a skilful, capable writer with an interesting tale that has had me pondering many of the elements since I finished reading it. Recommended for readers interested in fantasy with a historical twist.