Orbit Books, p/b, 336pp, Â£7.99
Reviewed by Martin Willoughby
Saintcrow is an author with a dozen books to her name and a good reputation, which is not let down by this novel. Iâ€™ll get the bad stuff out the way first:
- The number of sentences in italics is disturbing and I feel as if sheâ€™s shouting at me.
- Non-use of the Oxford comma
- Odd capitalisations
- Descriptions of the action are far less detailed than those of the clothing, faces and interior decor.
However, all four of those are more likely the result of bad editing practices, a surprise given Orbitâ€™s reputation. Whatâ€™s more, they show their ugly faces only in the first half of the book, the second half being bereft of these irritants and the italic sentences occur on far fewer occasions.
The only other problem is that I feel the need to have read the first book of the series to know all of whatâ€™s going on. This is, therefore, not a standalone book and the series needs to be read in order.
Putting those minor things aside, this is a well written novel with a good story, some well described characters and a good ending. Itâ€™s not a masterpiece, but it is a good read.
The two main characters are Emma Bannon, a sorceress, and Archibald Clare, a Mentath. Bannon is a prime, though what this actually means is not expanded on in this book, so I assume itâ€™s detailed in the first one. She does the dirty work for Queen Victrix, the latest vessel for the spirit of Britannia that rules the land.
Clare is a Mentath, a person who is highly logical and can deduce answers from things that are around him, like Sherlock Holmes does. A Mentath, however, is far better at deduction. Again, there is detail missing about his abilities which is probably in book one.
Brittania is the spirit of the isles and speaks through a king or queen from a throne set above the Stone of Scorn. She has set Bannon the task of finding a scientist whoâ€™s gone missing. I wonâ€™t spoil you by telling why as thereâ€™s a glorious twist to this story at the end. Clare gets tangled up in the plot while trying to hunt down a Doctor Vance, a fellow Mentath gone wrong, whoâ€™s taken to stealing things. Again, there is a twist to that story that I wonâ€™t spoil.
The Red Plague of the title starts killing people about half way through and the medical men of the time are baffled, unaware as they are of the theory of germs and viruses. There are one or two who know of and believe it, such as Clare and Vance, but they are in a race against time to find a cure. Bannon manages to come to their aid by finding the plague creatorâ€™s notes. It all ends in a mess for Victrix, Bannon and Clare, with thousands of deaths along the way, though the story is concluded very well, tidying up all the loose ends while leaving some open questions for the books that will undoubtedly follow.
The setting is recognisable as early Victorian London, though it is called Londinium and many other place names have been altered to suit the world Saintcrow has created. Although there is a sparse description of the city and its environs (with the notable exception of peopleâ€™s clothing and the interior decor), there is enough for any reader to get a feel for the place. There are metal/flesh hybrid horses pulling carriages and winged Gryphons in the service of the queen, all of which builds a world that combines fantasy and steampunk.
There is also a subplot about Bannonâ€™s shields which works out by the end of the story and the mutual non-feelings which might be feelings of Bannon and Clare for each other which is left open.
All in all, itâ€™s a book well worth reading, but one that shouldnâ€™t be started until youâ€™ve read the first book of the series, The Iron Wyrm Affair.