One of my targets for last year was to go back and resume following series that I’ve loved, but subsequently neglected in favour of the new and shiny. This is one of those series – I have formerly loved this series – as my review of Revelation makes clear. So I got hold of Lamentation to see if Matthew Shardlake’s adventures still had the power to enthrall…
BLURB – truncated: Summer, 1546. King Henry VIII is slowly, painfully dying. His Protestant and Catholic councilors are engaged in a final and decisive power struggle; whoever wins will control the government. As heretics are hunted across London, and radical Protestants are burned at the stake, the Catholic party focuses its attack on Henry’s sixth wife – and Matthew Shardlake’s old mentor – Queen Catherine Parr. Shardlake, still haunted by his narrow escape from death the year before, steps into action when the beleaguered and desperate Queen summons him to Whitehall Palace to help her recover a dangerous manuscript… And that’s all I’m prepared to reveal of this very chatty blurb that reveals far too many early plotpoints in the book.
REVIEW: Shardlake is older and during this period of religious tumult, continuing working as a lawyer and trying to keep his head down. For he no longer has the patronage of Thomas Cromwell and during some of his former adventures, managed to incur the wrath of some powerful men, especially Richard Rich. I very much liked how Shardlake is affected by his traumatic involvement in the sinking of the Mary Rose, which gives a nice ring of authenticity to his character. And I also enjoyed how he is unable to resist the draw of once more getting involved in matters concerning the highest in the land – even though such involvement comes at a very high cost.
He has loved Catherine Parr from afar for a long time – and there is no one in his own life to blunt the edges of his yawning loneliness, which seeps through his account. Often shunned and verbally abused for having a hunched back, he is nonetheless a highly intelligent, sensitive man with a brilliant mind. Sansom’s characterisation is pitch perfect – and I also love his descriptions of London, where a sudden crackdown leading to four public burnings, has left many feeling frightened and exposed. As for Shardlake, he now finds it difficult to gain any real comfort from praying to God – a response to an increasing sense of disgust at the lack of religious freedom. Despite the risk to himself, and to his long-time right-hand man, Jack Barack, Shardlake gets involved in one of the most dangerous cases of his life. With almost catastrophic consequences…
I whipped through this fairly hefty book (600+ pages) in just four days, because once I’d picked it up, it was very, very difficult to put down again. Once more Shardlake beautifully blends historic fact with gripping fiction – and this being the reign of Henry VIII – the fact is every bit as enthralling as the fiction. I’m so very glad I decided to make this the year where I went back and completed series I’d dropped – because Lamentation is one of my reading highlights of the year. And if you haven’t yet had the pleasure of reading any of this series and your taste runs to well-written historical fiction, then give yourself a Christmas present and get hold of the first book, Dissolution. 10/10
This is part of the weekly meme over at the Caffeinated Reviewer, where book bloggers can share the books and blogs they have written.
Overall, it’s been a much better week. And thank you so much for all the kind, encouraging comments I received after my rather frustrated rant, last week. They really helped me bounce back to a place where everything doesn’t seem so hopeless😊. Himself and I had a chat about everything, and we realised that I do need to get out more, even if it is only a matter of walking a handful of steps and then returning home. So on Wednesday, Himself and I were able to visit the local garden centre and have a pizza, and on Thursday, we went for a short walk along the river and ended up at the riverside café for a coffee. During the afternoons, I’ve been following the events at Wimbledon – and feel rather smug at correctly predicting that Mateo Berrettini would be playing in the Men’s Final, after watching him play his first match at Queen’s, back in mid-June. The pics this week are more from the garden…
The other bright spot is the fabulous quality of the books I’ve read this week – they are a lifeline by taking me away to another time and place. And one, in particular, has been outstanding…
Last week I read:
Into the Dark – Book 1 of the Alexis Carew series by J.A. Sutherland At fifteen, Alexis Carew has to face an age old problem – she’s a girl, and only a boy can inherit the family’s vast holdings. Her options are few.
She must marry and watch a stranger run the lands, or become a penniless tenant and see the lands she so dearly loves sold off. Yet there may be another option, one that involves becoming a midshipman on a shorthanded spaceship with no other women. This is a reread. For some reason, I didn’t follow up this series after reading the first book, so I read this one again to ensure that my memory hadn’t played tricks on me and that I definitely wanted to continue reading Alexis’s adventures. Which I certainly do…
Hestia 2781 – Book 1 of the Draco Tell Dramis series by Janet Edwards Hestia 2781 is the first of two full-length novels set immediately after the short story Hera 2781.
The year is 2781. Lieutenant Drago Tell Dramis’s first mission as a newly qualified fighter pilot ended with him and his team leader saving one of humanity’s oldest colony worlds, Hera, from destruction. Now he’s discovering that saving a world can be simple compared to living with the consequences.
Both Drago and his team leader and second cousin, Jaxon, are famous now, given rapid field promotions, and are due to be awarded medals. Worryingly, Drago learns Jaxon has a mysterious secret and a past history of erratic behaviour. It’s vital that Drago keeps both of them out of trouble and away from nosy reporters until the medal ceremony, because Jaxon could do or say something that deeply embarrasses both the Military and their Betan clan.
The Military is helping by sending their fighter team on a mission somewhere inconspicuously boring until the medal ceremony. That destination definitely won’t be Hestia, the perpetual trouble spot of humanity. This series is a spinoff from Edwards’ very popular Earth Girl series and I highly recommend that you read the short story ‘Hera 2781’ before tucking into this one, as the events in that story impact on what happens in the book. As ever, I thoroughly enjoyed the upbeat vibe Edwards always manages create in her space opera adventures, and appreciated revisiting this complex, enjoyable world. Review to follow.
Mutineer – Book 2 of the Alexis Carew series by J.A. Sutherland Just as Midshipman Alexis Carew thinks she’s found a place in the Royal Navy, she’s transferred aboard H.M.S. Hermione. Her captain is a tartar, liberal with the cat, who thinks girls have no place aboard ship.
The other midshipmen in the berth are no better. The only advice she’s offered is to keep her head down and mouth shut – things Alexis is rarely able to do. This was another enjoyable, action-packed read – and a shocking one. This series is essentially Hornblower in Space – and vividly depicted the darker, more brutal side of the Senior Service, by showing what can happen when a sadistic brute ends up running a ship. Sutherland’s notes on the story discloses that many of the events were based on true events that happened on a particular ship. It made for a gripping read.
The Goblin Emperor – Book 1 of The Goblin Emperior series by Katherine Addison Maia, the youngest, half-goblin son of the Emperor has lived his entire life in exile, distant from the Imperial Court and the deadly intrigue that suffuses it. But when his father and three sons in line for the throne are killed in an “accident,” he has no choice but to take his place as the only surviving rightful heir.
Entirely unschooled in the art of court politics, he has no friends, no advisors, and the sure knowledge that whoever assassinated his father and brothers could make an attempt on his life at any moment.
Surrounded by sycophants eager to curry favour with the naïve new emperor, and overwhelmed by the burdens of his new life, he can trust nobody. Amid the swirl of plots to depose him, offers of arranged marriages, and the spectre of the unknown conspirators who lurk in the shadows, he must quickly adjust to life as the Goblin Emperor. And firstly – a grovelling apology… Someone last week had recommended this one, so I got hold of it and I just want to say – THANK YOU – I just wish I could remember who it was, so I can namecheck you! This wonderful, engrossing read is going to make my Outstanding Reads list of the year. And even better news – I’ve now managed to get hold of an arc of the upcoming sequel – yay!
De Oppresso Liber – Book 6 of the Hayden War Cycle series by Evan Currie The war may be over, but the fighting continues as SOLCOM learns of an excursion by the Ross’El against an unaffiliated pre-space civilization in the no man’s land between Earth and the Alien Alliance. With always more questions than answers, SOLCOM dispatches a ship to quietly survey the situation and determine what, if any, course of action is best.
Captain Sorilla Aida and her team are the ground element assigned to the task, with the clear understanding that no matter what… they are to remain undetected by the alien overlords now controlling the moon world. Sorilla knows only one thing for certain as she learns more about the situation : Oppression is universal, Freedom is never free… and this is EXACTLY what she trained for. De Oppresso Liber… I once more tucked into this military sci fi adventure series, which has been cleverly developed from the initial flashpoint into a well-rounded world, full of detail and political tensions. Sorilla Aida has also had an interesting journey – and I like how her previous adventures are now affecting her current decisions.
AUDIOBOOK – Prophecy – Book 2 of the Giordano Bruno series by S.J. Parris A Tudor thriller featuring Giordano Bruno, renegade monk, philosopher and heretic, for fans of C. J. Sansom and The Name of the Rose Autumn, 1583. Under Elizabeth’s rule, loyalty is bought with blood… An astrological phenomenon heralds the dawn of a new age and Queen Elizabeth’s throne is in peril. As Mary Stuart’s supporters scheme to usurp the rightful monarch, a young maid of honour is murdered, occult symbols carved into her flesh.
The Queen’s spymaster, Francis Walsingham, calls on maverick agent Giordano Bruno to infiltrate the plotters and secure the evidence that will condemn them to death. Bruno is cunning, but so are his enemies. His identity could be exposed at any moment. The proof he seeks is within his grasp. But the young woman’s murder could point to an even more sinister truth… Hm. Not sure about the comparison with The Name of the Rose – but this one certainly helped me cope with my C.J. Sansom withdrawal symptoms… Bruno is a likeable, sympathetic character, whose presence in Tudor England on the edges of Elizabeth’s court is convincing and intriguing. Tudor London is beautifully described and the plot worked well as both a mystery and meshed effectively with the historical events of the time. Recommended for fans of historical mysteries. I also really enjoyed Laurence Kennedy’s excellent narration.
Wedding Hells – Book 8 of the Schooled in Magic series by Christopher G. Nuttall After her victory over Master Grey, Emily wants nothing more than to relax and give herself time to recover from the duel. Her magic, pushed to the limits, is no longer reliable, forcing her to learn to control it from scratch. Every time she delays using her magic, she risks headaches … or worse. But she must return to Whitehall to complete her fourth-year exams and bid farewell to those of her friends who are not returning for fifth year. And then, she must return to Zangaria to play her role in Princess Alassa’s wedding to Jade. It seems, if nothing else, a brief diversion before she goes off on a tour of the Allied Lands.
But all is not well in Zangaria and the kingdom is fast approaching a major crisis. Junior aristocrats are demanding their rights and titles from the king, while King Randor himself is dangerously unstable and hiding a secret that could spark off a civil war … and the peasants are threatening to revolt. Emily herself is isolated, unsure how to balance her obligations to her closest friends with her belief in freedom, justice and democracy. And, as Emily finds herself used as a political pawn by the different sides in the growing dispute and no longer sure who she can trust, she may find herself confronting a choice between doing the right thing, regardless of the cost…
…And losing everything she’s built over the past four years. This intriguing magical school adventure has quickly developed into a far more interesting scenario, where a girl from Earth has been dumped into the middle of a medieval society. And then has been very quick to share ideas that are fast transforming the world around her. I enjoyed the ongoing story and was rather shocked at where it ended – though I’m pleased that Himself had got hold of the next book in the series, so I’ll be able to discover what happens next without too much delay…
Unfortunately, I haven’t been online enough to recommend any blogs or articles. And neither have I been visiting my fellow bloggers all that much, either… I’m very sorry. Thank you for those of you who continue to visit and comment – I really do appreciate you taking the time and effort to do so😊. I hope you all have a happy, healthy week.
This is part of the weekly meme over at the Caffeinated Reviewer, where book bloggers can share the books and blogs they have written.
It’s been a very hectic week, though Christmas is only just beginning to loom on my horizon. We have a lot of rather heavy family stuff going on right now – the sort of things you’d rather not be happening to those you love. And it is complicated by the situation regarding COVID and the fact that Himself is a key worker.
I was glad to be able to teach Tim last Monday and on Wednesday I had both Pilates and Fitstep, though I felt a bit sore and headachy that evening, I am glad that I am making a start on getting a bit fitter. On Thursday evening, we nipped across to my daughter’s to give my grandson a very belated birthday present – fortunately he was thrilled with the art tablet as he is planning to do an animation course next year. On Friday afternoon I was back there to spend some time with the family, as on Saturday we had all three grandchildren – including little Eliza – come to stay overnight for the first time. She is not yet two and a half, so it was quite a big deal and I was delighted that she had a peaceful night and woke up happy in the morning. Typically, the weather was absolutely atrocious on Sunday morning, so we didn’t have a chance to get out at all. But she loved playing with the battery-powered Christmas toys and helped Himself decorate the Christmas tree. By the time the children left at midday on Sunday, I was really pleased that it had gone so well. Though a tad shattered and couldn’t summon the energy to write my weekly Sunday Post.
No photos this week, what with one thing and another…
Last week I read: Lamentation – Book 6 of the Matthew Shardlake series by C.J. Sansom Summer, 1546. King Henry VIII is slowly, painfully dying. His Protestant and Catholic councilors are engaged in a final and decisive power struggle; whoever wins will control the government. As heretics are hunted across London, and radical Protestants are burned at the stake, the Catholic party focuses its attack on Henry’s sixth wife – and Matthew Shardlake’s old mentor – Queen Catherine Parr.
Shardlake, still haunted by his narrow escape from death the year before, steps into action when the beleaguered and desperate Queen summons him to Whitehall Palace to help her recover a dangerous manuscript… Catching up with this one is part of my drive to complete series I started – and then neglected. I have loved Matthew Shardlake as a character and Sansom’s clever and knowledgeable evocation of Henry VIII’s reign. And this one was no exception. Review to follow.
Mistaken Identity Crisis – Book 4 of the Braxton Campus Mysteries by James. J. Cudney A clever thief with a sinister calling card has invaded Braxton campus. A string of jewelry thefts continues to puzzle the sheriff, given they’re remarkably similar to an unsolved eight-year-old case, back when Gabriel vanished one stormy night.
When a missing ruby, and a body, are discovered at the campus, Kellan must investigate the killer’s motive to protect his brother. As if the latest murder isn’t enough to keep him busy, Kellan partners with April to end the Castigliano and Vargas crime family feud. What really happened to Francesca while all those postcards showed up in Braxton? I have thoroughly enjoyed this entertaining cosy murder mystery series, featuring a young single father, who is trying to bring up his young daughter and keep his career going. Trouble is, he keeps tripping over all these dead bodies… This latest slice of Kellan’s adventures is both entertaining and gripping. Review to follow.
AUDIOBOOK Mark of Athena – Book 3 of the Heroes of Olympus series by Rick Riordan Annabeth is terrified. Just when she’s about to be reunited with Percy—after six months of being apart, thanks to Hera—it looks like Camp Jupiter is preparing for war. As Annabeth and her friends Jason, Piper, and Leo fly in on the Argo II, she can’t blame the Roman demigods for thinking the ship is a Greek weapon. With its steaming bronze dragon masthead, Leo’s fantastical creation doesn’t appear friendly. Annabeth hopes that the sight of their praetor Jason on deck will reassure the Romans that the visitors from Camp Half-Blood are coming in peace.
And that’s only one of her worries. In her pocket Annabeth carries a gift from her mother that came with an unnerving demand: Follow the Mark of Athena. Avenge me. Annabeth already feels weighed down by the prophecy that will send seven demigods on a quest to find—and close—the Doors of Death. What more does Athena want from her?
Annabeth’s biggest fear, though, is that Percy might have changed. What if he’s now attached to Roman ways? Does he still need his old friends? As the daughter of the goddess of war and wisdom, Annabeth knows she was born to be a leader, but never again does she want to be without Seaweed Brain by her side.
Narrated by four different demigods, The Mark of Athena is an unforgettable journey across land and sea to Rome, where important discoveries, surprising sacrifices, and unspeakable horrors await. Climb aboard the Argo II, if you dare… This enjoyable spinoff series is every bit as action-packed as the original Percy Jackson series. I was thoroughly caught up in the adventure – nobody raises the stakes as effectively as Riordan – and was rather shaken by the ending. Fortunately, I have the next book waiting for me to read! Review to follow.
Buffy’s Corner 12/6/20 – Looking at the week ahead https://booksbonesbuffy.com/2020/12/06/buffys-corner-12-6-20-looking-at-the-week-ahead/ While Tammy’s blog is always worth visiting – particularly if you are interested in SFF reading matter, this time around it is alll about the amazing wildlife pics her very talented photographer husband, Moses Sparkes, has produced during lockdown. Click on the link – I promise you won’t be disappointed…
WFT Audible? https://unconventionalbookworms.com/wtf-audible/Linda and Brandee have written a detailed article about Audible’s exploitative practices regarding their returns policy. If you use Audible and are in the habit of regularly returning audiobooks you have read to eke out your credits or budget, please, please click on the link!
Thank you for visiting, reading, liking and/or commenting on my blog – I hope you and yours have a peaceful, healthy week. Take care.
As anyone who has visited this site will know, in addition to my passion for science fiction and fantasy, I am also a real fan of historical murder mysteries. When I saw this offering on Netgalley, it was a no-brainer that I would request the arc and was delighted when I had the opportunity to read and review it.
April, 1590. The queen’s spymaster, Sir Francis Walsingham, is dead, leaving a dangerous power vacuum. His former right hand man, Nicholas Faunt, believes he was poisoned and has ordered Kit Marlowe to discover who killed him. To find the answers, Marlowe must consult the leading scientists and thinkers in the country. But as he questions the members of the so-called School of Night, the playwright-turned-spy becomes convinced that at least one of them is hiding a deadly secret. If he is to outwit the most inquiring minds in Europe and unmask the killer within, Marlowe must devise an impossibly ingenious plan.
Of course, what had escaped my notice was that this is the eighth book in this series. However, once again, I managed to land on my feet in that at no time was I floundering or adrift as Trow is far too an experienced and capable writer to let that happen. When Francis Walsingham dies, it falls to Kit Marlowe to try to discover who is the culprit. In this twisting Elizabethan plot there are no shortage of suspects and I really enjoyed reading about Marlowe’s investigations as characters I’ve known from history books leapt to vivid life in this Tudor whodunnit.
Trow clearly had a blast with some of these characters – his depiction of William Shakespeare is particularly amusing and somewhat controversial, given that in this incarnation, poor bumpkin Shakespeare is thoroughly adrift in the London theatrical scene and desperate for work. Though Marlowe is reluctant to employ him as a writer or an actor, given that he is not very good at either. I also enjoyed reading Trow’s version of Sir Walter Raleigh and Sir John Dee. However, the character at the centre of all of these shenanigans is Kit Marlowe himself. Written in third person viewpoint, Marlowe is a complicated, somewhat driven character who provides a series of masks depending on who he is with. I really liked Trow’s characterisation – his detached observation of the people around him and his unwillingness to wear his heart on his sleeve makes him an interesting, complex protagonist.
In order for this book to work, the world building also has to be believable and sharp without slowing down the pace by too much description. Trow has nailed this. We never forget that we are in Tudor England with people whose worries and concerns are so similar to ours – yet also so very different. The climax of this story, along with the denouement worked really well. I certainly didn’t see it coming. Yet there is also another surprise at the end of the book relating to the title which leaves this book on a doozy of a cliffhanger. I shall definitely be looking out for the next book in the series and have already ordered the first one from the local library.
This is highly recommended for anyone who enjoys good quality historical mysteries along the lines of C.J. Samson’s Matthew Shadlake series – see my review of his book Revelation.
Teaser Tuesday is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by The Purple Booker.
Anyone can play along! Just do the following:
• Grab your current read
• Open to a random page
• Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
• BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
• Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!
This is my choice of the day:
Eleventh Hour – Book 8 of the Kit Marlow mysteries by M.J. Trow
13% ‘Lord,’ he intoned, his voice the only sound in the room now that the coals had settled. ‘Demon of the Shedin, Master of the Gaming House of Hell, show me your face.’
He held out both hands as the blood still trickled, intoning the ancient Hewbrew over and over. ‘She me the ram and bull. Let me feel your fiery breath.’
There was a thud at the door and he visibly jumped, his pulse racing.
‘Who’s that?’ He was almost afraid to hear the answer.
‘Carter,’ the muffled voice came back through the oak. ‘Dr Dee’s man. I have a letter for you, Dr Salazar, from the magus.’
BLURB: April, 1590. The queen’s spymaster, Sir Francis Walsingham, is dead, leaving a dangerous power vacuum. His former right hand man, Nicholas Faunt, believes he was poisoned and has ordered Kit Marlowe to discover who killed him.
To find the answers, Marlowe must consult the leading scientists and thinkers in the country. But as he questions the members of the so-called School of Night, the playwright-turned-spy becomes convinced that at least one of them is hiding a deadly secret. If he is to outwit the most inquiring minds in Europe and unmask the killer within, Marlowe must devise an impossibly ingenious plan.
As you can see, it is early days with this book. But although once more I’ve done my trick of crashing mid-way into a long-running series, I’m not remotely adrift, while finding the worldbuilding and characters gripping and enjoyable. Trow is clearly comfortable in this vividly depicted world with his cast of vibrant characters – I’m really enjoying this one…
There are a number of science fiction and fantasy – mostly fantasy, it has to be said – which are set in London, an amazing city, thick with history and yet still buzzing and vibrant. I have already suggested a number of well-written, quality series that use London as an effective backdrop in Part 1 and here is now the next section of the article, which would have been far too long had I published it in one go.
The Laundry Files by Charles Stross
This is another ongoing series that is a solid favourite – I love the way this long-running series has developed to date.
Bob Howard is a low-level techie working for The Laundry, a super-secret government agency. While his colleagues are out saving the world, Bob’s under a desk restoring lost data. None of them receive any thanks for the jobs they do, but at least a techie doesn’t risk getting shot or eaten in the line of duty. Bob’s world is dull but safe, and that’s the way it should have stayed; but then he went and got Noticed. Now, Bob Howard is up to his neck in spycraft, alternative universes, dimension-hopping nazis, Middle Eastern terrorists, damsels in distress, ancient Lovecraftian horror and the end of the world. Only one thing is certain: it will take more than control-alt-delete to sort this mess out…
The first book in this series is The Atrocity Archives.
Spellcrackers.com by Suzanne McLeod This is a sparkling series with a fantasy PI who pings off the page. I need to get back and catch up with this series!
My name is Genny Taylor. I work for Spellcrackers.com. It’s a great job, pays the rent, lets me do the thing I’m good at – finding magic and cracking it – and the bonus is it’s run by witches, which stops the vamps from taking a bite out of me. When Mr October, a sexy calendar pin-up vamp, is accused of murdering his girlfriend, an old debt is called in and Genny is forced to help prove his innocence, risking her job and the protection it offers – and threatening to expose her own dark secrets. Searching for the killer plunges Genny deep into the hidden heart of vampire society. It’s not long before she realises that she and Mr October are both unwitting pawns in a centuries-old power struggle between London’s non-human communities . . . and it’s not just her own neck that’s at stake, but the lives of all London’s supernaturals. My advice is to start with the first book The Sweet Scent of Blood.
The Bartimaeus Sequence by Jonathan Stroud
Nathaniel is a boy magician-in-training, sold to the government by his birth parents at the age of five and sent to live as an apprentice to a master. Powerful magicians rule Britain, and its empire, and Nathaniel is told his is the “ultimate sacrifice” for a “noble destiny.” If leaving his parents and erasing his past life isn’t tough enough, Nathaniel’s master, Arthur Underwood, is a cold, condescending, and cruel middle-ranking magician in the Ministry of Internal Affairs. The boy’s only saving grace is the master’s wife, Martha Underwood, who shows him genuine affection that he rewards with fierce devotion. Nathaniel gets along tolerably well over the years in the Underwood household until the summer before his eleventh birthday. Everything changes when he is publicly humiliated by the ruthless magician Simon Lovelace and betrayed by his cowardly master who does not defend him.
Nathaniel vows revenge. In a Faustian fever, he devours magical texts and hones his magic skills, all the while trying to appear subservient to his master. When he musters the strength to summon the 5,000-year-old djinni Bartimaeus to avenge Lovelace by stealing the powerful Amulet of Samarkand, the boy magician plunges into a situation more dangerous and deadly than anything he could ever imagine.
This intelligent, well written trilogy may feature a wise-cracking genie, who is the main protagonist – but it is for older children, as the jaw-dropping climax left me wrung out… The first book is The Amulet of Samarkand – see my review here.
The Newbury and Hobbes series by George Mann The entertaining steampunk detective series has also grabbed me as I’ve enjoyed the progression of the characters.
Welcome to the bizarre and dangerous world of Victorian London, a city teetering on the edge of revolution. Its people are ushering in a new era of technology, dazzled each day by new inventions. Airships soar in the skies over the city, whilst ground trains rumble through the streets and clockwork automatons are programmed to carry out menial tasks in the offices of lawyers, policemen and journalists. But beneath this shiny veneer of progress lurks a sinister side. For this is also a world where ghostly policemen haunt the fog-laden alleyways of Whitechapel, where cadavers can rise from the dead and where Sir Maurice Newbury, Gentleman Investigator for the Crown, works tirelessly to protect the Empire from her foes.
When an airship crashes in mysterious circumstances, Sir Maurice and his recently appointed assistant Miss Veronica Hobbes are called in to investigate. Meanwhile, Scotland Yard is baffled by a spate of grisly murders and a terrifying plague is ravaging the slums of the city.
The first book in the series is The Affinity Bridge.
The Skyscraper Throne series by Tom Pollock
This gritty, urban fantasy has London singing off the pages as a magical personification that I found enthralling. Running from her traitorous best friend and her estranged father, graffiti artist Beth Bradley is looking for sanctuary. What she finds is Urchin, the ragged and cocky crown prince of London’s mystical underworld. Urchin opens Beth’s eyes to the city she’s never truly seen-where vast spiders crawl telephone wires seeking voices to steal, railwraiths escape their tethers, and statues conceal an ancient priesthood robed in bronze. But it all teeters on the brink of destruction. Amid rumors that Urchin’s goddess mother will soon return from her 15-year exile, Reach, a malign god of urban decay, wants the young prince dead. Helping Urchin raise an alleyway army to reclaim his skyscraper throne, Beth soon forgets her old life. But when her best friend is captured, Beth must choose between this wondrous existence and the life she left behind.
The first book in the series is The City’s Son – see my review here.
The Magnificent Devices series by Shelley Adina This is a steampunk, alternate history romp, featuring a feisty protagonist – and if you think it starts off reading like a typical period romance, do keep reading because it suddenly turns into something so much more intriguing…
London, 1889. Victoria is Queen. Charles Darwin’s son is Prime Minister. And steam is the power that runs the world. At 17, Claire Trevelyan, daughter of Viscount St. Ives, was expected to do nothing more than pour an elegant cup of tea, sew a fine seam, and catch a rich husband. Unfortunately, Claire’s talents lie not in the ballroom, but in the chemistry lab, where things have a regrettable habit of blowing up. The first book in the series is Magnificent Devices – see my review here.
The Night’s Masque series by Anne Lyle
This is an historical genre mash-up, with a dash of science fiction thrown into the alternate world, which gives an intriguing backdrop to the storyline.
When Tudor explorers returned from the New World, they brought back a name out of half-forgotten Viking legend: skraylings. Red-sailed ships followed in the explorers’ wake, bringing Native American goods–and a skrayling ambassador–to London. But what do these seemingly magical beings really want in Elizabeth I’s capital? Mal Catlyn, a down-at-heel swordsman, is seconded to the ambassador’s bodyguard, but assassination attempts are the least of his problems. What he learns about the skraylings and their unholy powers could cost England her new ally–and Mal his soul.
The first book in this entertaining series is The Alchemist of Souls – see my review here.
Triumff , Her Majesty’s Hero by Dan Abnett This is standalone genre mash-up swashbuckler has a premise that doesn’t bear too much close examination – but I found I didn’t really care, because it’s such fun…
Sir Rupert Triumff. Adventurer. Fighter. Drinker. Saviour? Triumff is a ribald historical fantasy set in a warped clockwork-powered version of our present day. A new Elizabethan age, not of Elizabeth II but in the style of the original Virgin Queen. Throughout its rollicking pages, Sir Rupert Triumff drinks, dines and duels his way into a new Brass Age of Exploration and Adventure. Read my review here.
I’d had Anne Lyle’s historical fantasy debut on my radar for a while, but when I got to meet her again at Fantasycon this year, I also picked up her book and tucked into it on the journey home…
When a Tudor explorer returned from the New World, they brought back a name out of half-forgotten Viking legend: Skraylings. Red-sailed ships followed in the explorers’ wake, bringing Native American goods – and a Skrayling ambassador – to London. But what do these seemingly magical beings really want in Elizabeth I’s capital? Mal Catlyn, a down-at-heel swordsman, is appointed as the ambassador’s bodyguard, but assassination attempts are the least of his problems. What he learns about the skraylings and their unholy powers could cost England her new ally – and Mal his soul.
This debut novel is an intriguing alternative historical fantasy adventure where Elizabeth I has married and produced two princes. The Skraylings – a mysterious and powerful New World race that is proposing an alliance with England at a time when formidable interests are ranged against the country raises the stakes in this involving tale of political manoeuvring and personal ambition. There are three main protagonists whose stories intertwine – Mal, a mercenary fallen on hard times; Ned, a scribe who works in the theatre and Coby, a girl posing as a young man working as a tireman for the famous theatre group the Sussex’s men. Going for three protagonists is always something of a risk – I often find there is one character’s storyline I skim in order to get back to my favourite. It didn’t happen in this case. All three stories held me sufficiently to want to follow each one to the climactic and satisfying conclusion.
What this isn’t, is some rollicking swashbuckler. Lyle’s London is too gritty and full of menace – in her attention to detail, I was at times reminded of C.J. Sansom’s depiction of Tudor London in his successful Matthew Shardlake series. And although this is a fairly hefty read at just over 500 pages, the book zipped along at a fair clip.
The heart of the story – just what exactly the Skraylings represent and how this is going to impact on all three main characters – is a strong story arc with plenty of narrative tension along with the period detail. The only caveat I have is that perhaps Ned would have felt a bit more tormented about the prospect of Hell due to his lifestyle and I wasn’t completely sure that Religion was important enough to all the protagonists at the time when hundreds of people were willing to die and kill for their beliefs. However, this one quibble didn’t prevent me from hugely enjoying this impressive debut and very much looking forward to the sequel.