Think about some of the greatest turning points in English history. Have you ever wondered if posterity got it right? What if the Great Fire of London was no accident? What if it was part of a menacing plot to change the face of Carolean London? Step inside this gripping novel to meet the people who will lead you on a journey during which you can reflect on your own answers to these questions.
Meet Jem Green, abused and overworked in the kitchens of a powerful Duke. Meet Count Cazalon, a sinister and insidious character with much of the night about him. He is plotting something and in some mysterious way, Jem Green seems to be a key part of it. Ann, an apprentice sorceress, Ptolemy (who is more than just the mute child he appears to be) and Cleo the pet monkey join the main cast of this thrilling new book.
It’s difficult to decide which aspect of this debut novel (found in the Templar slush pile) is the most exciting. Is it the fast-paced plot which moves effortlessly between scenes as the story of sorcery and horror unfolds? Is it the vivid characterisation of a disparate group of people all inextricably linked to the final outcome? Is it the colourful settings, so powerfully described that you can almost see and smell the streets and homes of seventeenth century London? Or is it the historical detail, so seamlessly embedded in the narrative that it is impossible to tell fact from fiction? It is, of course, all of the above and the outcome is a novel of power, pace, intrigue and appeal.
The author, Kate Griffin, writing as Cate Cain, is an expert in her historical field – she currently works for the Society for the Preservation of Ancient Buildings, but she also knows how to tell a ripping good yarn. It’s refreshing to read a novel about a Stuart king, contextualised in a world on the cusp of the Age of Enlightenment. It’s equally refreshing to read a book which doesn’t shy away from the more macabre aspects of the era’s social values and a growing fascination with the emergence of scientific theory.
When all is said and done, honest novels for older children in the horror/historical/adventure genre don’t come along very often. This is one of the best I’ve read. The ending begs a sequel, which I’m already looking forward to with relish.