I received my copy from Orbit through Book Geeks.
Emma Bannon is a powerful sorceress, in fact she is a Prime; magic doesn’t come more powerful than hers. Archibald Clare is a Mentath, someone with incredible observational and deductive powers. Emma is in the service of Victrix, the young queen of England and vessel of the god-spirit Britannia. When Mentaths all over Londinium are being killed, Emma is send to Clare in order to keep him safe and recruit him to her quest to find out exactly what is going on. Combining their powers of deduction and sorcery soon brings them to the conclusion that it is the queen herself as well as her whole empire that are under threat. The ensuing battle will take everything Bannon and Clare have and take them beyond what they thought possible. They and their allies are few against many and powerful enemies. And failure is not an option.
Set in an alternate London where illogical magic has changed the course of the industrial revolution, this is a world filled with mechanical marvels and mysterious forces. Magic, in this world, is quite common and widely used, which is a bit of a problem for our hero Mentath who finds his logical mind can’t cope with the illogical craft and its consequences. This is a London with clock-work horses, altered humans, dragon spirits and areas where the “normal” rules of nature don’t apply.
Apart from Bannon and Clare there are a few other and very interesting characters. Mikal is a Shield, one whose sole purpose is to protect their Prime. And while Bannon is close to her solitary shield, she is not quite sure she can trust him. There is also an Italian mercenary, hired to protect Clare and a German inventor who seems to get really angry only when he’s forced to miss his breakfast.
In fact there is an awful lot going on in this book. The reader is introduced to new characters operating in a freshly created and fantastical setting, surrounded by powers (both magical and logistical) that don’t exist in our everyday world either. And all these novelties form the centre of a mystery and adventure that takes off on the very first page and rarely stops to catch a breath. The reader constantly finds themselves caught between the urge to speed along in order to find out what happens next and the need to go slowly so that they can take in all the details and form a good picture of the fictional world in all its fantastical detail. And this is a balance that the author almost finds in this book. I did find myself a bit overwhelmed by the amount of new information I had to absorb occasionally. There were times when my need to understand the setting took me right out of the story. Having said that, as the story continued and the world became better established it became ever easier to stay caught up in the adventure and stay there.
This story is told from both Bannon and Clare’s perspective in alternating chapters and this means that more often than not the reader finds themselves leaving one character at a cliff-hanger moment only to follow the other until they reach their own. I don’t always enjoy this way of telling a story but I found it worked quite well in this book, especially since the author never pictures the same scene twice but from different perspectives.
Both Bannon and Clare are fascinating main characters. Clare is obviously strongly based on Sherlock Holmes (up to and including his steepled hands resting against his chin when he is thinking and his use of certain stimulants), although you won’t find Dr. Watson’s twin on these pages. Emma Bannon is, as far as I know, an original creation by this author. And as such she is a triumph; very strong and independent she is also insecure when it comes to certain matters. Operating in a field that forces her to face evil, violence and destruction she still manages to come across as a true woman. It is going to be interesting to see how these characters, and their side-kicks, develop in future books.
Although the first part of this book did feel a bit like hard work at times I really enjoyed my introduction to this magical world and Bannon and Clare. And I can’t help feeling that I would probably enjoy any sequel to this book even more. Without having to introduce the reader to a whole new world, the author will be able to concentrate more on the adventure and characters in any subsequent books, and that should turn them into true page-turners.