1606. A year to the day that men were executed for conspiring to blow up Parliament, a towering wave devastates the Bristol Channel. Some proclaim God’s vengeance. Others seek to take advantage.
In London, Daniel Pursglove lies in prison waiting to die. But Charles FitzAlan, close adviser to King James I, has a job in mind that will free a man of Daniel’s skill from the horrors of Newgate. If he succeeds.
For Bristol is a hotbed of Catholic spies, and where better for the lone conspirator who evaded arrest, one Spero Pettingar, to gather allies than in the chaos of a drowned city? Daniel journeys there to investigate FitzAlan’s lead, but soon finds himself at the heart of a dark Jesuit conspiracy – and in pursuit of a killer.
Fans of historical fiction may recognise the name Karen Maitland from her standalone titles such as Company of Liars and The Owl Killers. The Drowned City, written under the name K. J. Maitland, is the first of a promised series to feature secretary-turned-conjurer-turned-agent Daniel Pursglove and sees a slight shift in both era and tone from Maitland’s previous work.
Set in 1606, with England and Scotland both still reeling from the uncovering of the Gunpowder Plot and James I’s promises of religious toleration looking increasingly untenable in the wake of renewed Catholic conspiracies, The Drowned City opens with Daniel languishing in the rat-infested depths of Newgate on trumped-up charges of witchcraft. As a man with powerful and well-connected enemies, it will take the favour of the King himself to grant Daniel his freedom – which is precisely what he is offered when the mysterious Charles FitzAlan tasks him with uncovering a network of Jesuit spies – and of investigating allegations that they may have recruited witches to their cause.
On his arrival in Bristol, Daniel finds a city in ruins. A devastating wave has left the city shattered – and its remaining people suspicious of both outsiders and those who survived unscathed. Restless mobs roam the streets and gangs of vicious looters operate under the shadowy protection of the castle. Finding refuge at the Salt Cat Inn, it isn’t long before Daniel realises his task may be impossible. Bristol is a hotbed of conspiracy – and then amidst the whispers, bodies start to be unearthed.
As you can hopefully tell from that brief description, The Drowned City is a fast-paced and thrilling adventure that quickly sees Daniel become embroiled in a series of local murders that may have much wider implications for both court and country.
Whilst more action-orientated that Maitland’s previous novels, The Drowned City is no less impressive in its historical research or realism – one of the things that I enjoyed most about the novel was how vividly Maitland depicts the world in which Daniel lives. From the crowded and horrific squalor of Newgate’s dark depths to the mud-encrusted remnants of wave-damaged Bristol’s streets, I felt as if I was walking alongside Daniel every step of the way. I also enjoyed the occasional snapshots that are given of court life, and the way in which Daniel’s investigations are shown to relate to national concerns that have implications for the court – and for the life of King James himself.
Daniel himself is an interesting protagonist – although I suspect there are secrets hidden in his background that have been left for readers to discover in later books! Having been raised alongside – and worked for – gentlemen, he is well placed to understand the intricacies and dangers of the court – and to appreciate the dangers that lie in continuing to follow the old faith. However his more recent career as a conjurer – as well as his mysterious past – gives Daniel a street-sense and a roguishness that serves him well in his adventure – and allows the reader to ponder where his loyalties and morals may truly lie.
It is difficult to say much more about The Drowned City without spoiling the enjoyment of reading it. Packed full of intrigue and set within a dark and dangerous world, it is an enthralling novel that is sure to appeal to fans of C. J. Sansom and Andrew Taylor, as well as to anyone who has previously enjoyed Maitland’s work. Jacobean England is brought vividly to life and the plot whips along with the crackle and spark of the magic that Pursglove is sent to investigate. A thoroughly enjoyable and diverting read – I am already looking forward to seeing where Daniel Pursglove ends up next!
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My thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy of the book in return for an honest and unbiased review and to Anne Cater from Random Things Tours for organising and inviting me onto this blog tour. The tour continues until 12 April 2021 so do check out the other stops for more reviews and content.
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