This first volume of an adventure fantasy set in victorian england is very engaging and the two main characters add a huge amount of fun to this fantastical murder mystery.
Returning to England from a 20 year stretch in Shanghai, Lord Crane intends to grab his inheritance and quickly return to his adoptive land, but he is assailed by an irresistible desire to kill himself… just like his father and brother have done in the last two years. There is just one thing to do: call a shaman and figure out who cursed his family before he really answers to the urge to end his life.
Charles created two wonderful main characters that I immediately loved: Lucian Vaudrey Crane, an Oscar-Wilde-like bigger-than-life personality, full of charms, and Stephen Day, a very apt practitioner of magic, deadly and full of inner conflict. We want to know what happens to them, and the big fast paced mystery is wonderfully done, never sagging in tension and escalating crescendo into a lovely Agatha Christie finale. It was really fun and fast paced and I read it very quickly, truly enjoying the ride. There isn’t many women characters and I missed that. We get the hint of a strong magician partner of Stephen and hopefully she will be coming into the next volumes. The main romance of the novel is gay, which is pleasantly refreshing in the fantasy genre, it was something new to me and it works perfectly with the characters and the time period.
My only problems were the use of a few writer shorthand which I felt a little cheated on as a reader. There were a number of moments we are told Lord Crane is sharing a very entertaining tale to his assembly… but we get nothing. I would have loved to actually have the anecdotes and witness more of his conversations as he really is a charismatic character. It felt a little lazy not to give us that… but I guess it could have taken away some of the tension, and it would have added elements not used in the story (but personally I don’t mind more open storylines). The plot was tight and everything in it made sense. There is absolutely no loose ends in this tale, and every plot and worldbuilding element is layered on chapter by chapter just when we need it, so the action never slows down. It is a very efficient style.
Overall, I was really happily surprised by this novel from which I didn’t expect anything. It was light, fun, total entertainment, and I can understand why it is so well noted on Amazon. I would just put a warning about this being a book for mature audiences with graphic sexual content (more than I am used to, I’m not big on romance elements usually). I would recommend it to people who enjoy historical fantasies like “Paper magician” (though this one feels more grown up) and gritty darkly humoured fantasy mysteries like “Anita Black”.
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