For some reason, AutoCorrect thinks that I’m somehow managing to mistype ‘warm’ as ‘wyrm’ and I’m rather curious about what kind of keyboard my laptop thinks I’m using.
Anyhow, this book was delightful. I’ll admit to a good bit of suspicion at the beginning, because it opened like it was going to be the most blatant Sherlock Holmes rip-off in the history of time. Fortunately, I was disabused of that notion very quickly: Archibald Clare, though still very much a Sherlock Holmes figure, is just one of a number of people with similarly logical minds. In this version of Britain, such genii1 are common enough that they have a classification – mentath – and a registration system by which they are recommended for various jobs. Interesting, I thought.
And then it got better, because Emma Bannon, as it turns out, is Prime: the highest level of sorcerer in the land, and a delightful character at that. Throughout the entire I book, I cannot think of a single moment where I was urging her to do something different than what she did. Which, with me being the reader, means she can come across as a bit brutal on occasion. But hey, she gets the job done.
The two stand at the beginnings of a grand mystery. Before the book began, Bannon had begun investigating the deaths of several registered mentaths; as Clare is unregistered, she doesn’t tell him (at first) that he’s the last unregistered mentath in London.2 Every other unregistered mentath has been rather brutally murdered. Whoops!
The plot was intriguing, and toeing the line of ‘too complex’ – I could follow most of the time, though I’ll admit to having been a bit lost amidst all the local politics once or twice. Still, it all came clear enough in the end, in a series of scenes that would make for a beautiful cinematic.
What I really loved, though, was twofold:
First, the relationship between Bannon and Clare. It’s distinctly not Sherlock/Watson in flavor – Clare is obviously the Sherlock figure here, but Bannon neatly sidesteps being Watson by dint of being the Big Dog of the two: she’s the one ordering Clare around, serving both as protector and master, in a way. And the entire matter of heteronormative bull was also neatly sidestepped: Clare, a being who prides himself on sheer logic, doesn’t seem to bother with attraction to people, and Bannon has her own romance going on outside of the pair. Do you know how happy it makes me to see a book feature a male-and-female-duo as lead and not have them wind up making out? So happy.
Secondly, the world building in this book was phenomenal. To the point where I was starting to wonder if I’d missed something and this was, like, the nineteenth book in the series. It’s an alternate history, and a rather unique one – there are mentions of an Age of Flame, when dragons ruled; hints of Arthurian legend having actually happened; Britain is named for Britannia, a fascinating immortal ruler-spirit that uses the acting Queen as a Vessel; and plenty of old magics being used to do interesting things. There was a ludicrous amount of effort put into the world building of this whole thing, and it made it amazing. I feel safe assuming that the author has a notebook3 full of history and rules of magic and whatnot somewhere; but though it exists, very little is shared with us. “Show, don’t tell” must’ve been carved into the desk on which she wrote- the ‘end notes’ consist of a one-page excerpt from Clare’s briefly-mentioned monograph on observation4 and a short list denoting the levels of magic users, with a couple brief footnotes that make it seem like something taken from a textbook rather than the explain-it-all appendix to a novel. And yet it works: while I certainly started off confused, by the end I felt pretty comfortable with what the layout of the world, the rules and all that, were. Sure, there’s numerous mysteries left over, but it doesn’t feel like the book is taunting me, it feels like I’m a slightly-more-informed-than-average citizen of the world, knowing just enough to realize that there’s a world of mysteries still out there.
And I love that sort of thing, it has very thoroughly captured my interest. Though I’m trying to avoid buying any new books at the moment, as I’ve got a ten-page list of backlog to work my way through,5 I just might have to pick up the next one in the series right now. You’ll see soon enough if I managed to control myself.
So, that’s my review: glowing with praise, absolutely in love. Go get the book.