Blog Tours · Reviews

BLOG TOUR REVIEW!!! The Bloodless Boy by Robert J Lloyd

Image Description: The cover of The Bloodless Boy features a section from a map of seventeenth-century London, with a seal in the centre.

The City of London, 1678. New Year’s Day. Twelve years have passed since the Great Fire ripped through the City. Eighteen since the fall of Oliver Cromwell’s Republic and the restoration of a King. London is gripped by hysteria, where rumors of Catholic plots and sinister foreign assassins abound.

The body of a young boy, drained of his blood and with a sequence of numbers inscribed on his skin, is discovered on the snowy bank of the Fleet River.

Sir Edmund Bury Godfrey, the powerful Justice of Peace for Westminster, is certain of Catholic guilt in the crime. He enlists Robert Hooke, the Curator of Experiments of the Royal Society, and his assistant, Harry Hunt, to help his enquiry. Demanding discretion from them, he also entrusts to them to preserve the body, which they store inside Hooke’s Air-pump. Sir Edmund confides to Hooke that the bloodless boy is not the first to have been discovered. He also presents Hooke with a cipher that was left on the body.

That same morning Henry Oldenburg, the Secretary of the Royal Society, blows his brains out. A disgraced Earl is released from the Tower of London, bent on revenge against the King, Charles II.

Wary of the political hornet’s nest they are walking into – and using evidence rather than paranoia in their pursuit of truth – Hooke and Hunt must discover why the boy was murdered, and why his blood was taken. Moreover, what does the cipher mean?

Harry, wanting to prove himself as a natural philosopher and to break free from the shadow of Hooke’s brilliance, takes the lead in investigating the death of the boy. He is pulled into the darkest corners of Restoration London, where the Court and the underworld seem to merge.

Harry has to face the terrible consequences of experiments done in the name of Science, but also reckon with a sinister tale with its roots in the traumas of the Civil Wars.

Set in seventeenth-century London, The Bloodless Boy introduces readers to Harry Hunt, Observator of the Royal Society and protégé of Robert Hooke, the society’s renowned Curator of Experiments. Called to the banks of the Fleet on a snowy winter’s morning, Hunt and Hooke are charged with the investigation and preservation of the body of a young boy, drained of blood and, apparently, transported to the river’s bank without the perpetrator leaving a trace of their passing.

The discovery of the bloodless boy provides Sir Edmund Bury Godfrey, Justice of the Peace, with a puzzle – and Hunt with an opportunity to step out from his master’s shadow and prove his mettle as a natural philosopher in his own right. Solving the mystery of the bloodless bodies being left over London will take Hunt into some of the darkest – and most dangerous – corners of Restoration London, where the pursuit of knowledge rubs shoulders with criminality, and where a political hornet’s nest is waiting to be stirred up.

Seventeenth-century London comes vividly to life on the page in The Bloodless Boy, from the intrigues of the Court to the grimy streets of London’s shadowy back alleys. The early proceedings of the Royal Society – and the tensions created as the secular rationalism of the ‘new’ philosophy came into increasing conflict with established, often deeply-held, religious belief – are richly portrayed, and a real sense of the world that the characters occupy comes across on the page.

For me, the characters themselves didn’t come to life quite as vividly as the setting – probably because there were a lot of them. Fictional creations mix with real historical figures and, whilst I admire the dedication Robert J Lloyd has put into creating his rich and detailed world, there were times when I wondered whether the roles of some characters could have been combined to make it easier for readers to distinguish. A character list is provided at the beginning of the novel – which does help – but reading on my e-reader made flicking back and forth to refer to this every time that I’d forgotten who someone was something of a chore.

The mystery of the bloodless boy is, however, certainly intriguing – and considerably more complex than it first appears, and utilises this history of this tumultuous period to add additional depth. With as much a focus upon the ‘why’ as well as the ‘who’-dunnit, you also get a fantastic history lesson alongside your crime-solving, with a Hunt and Hooke’s inquiries taking them back to the dark days of the English Civil War, as well as the very edges of the moral boundaries of philosophical enquiry at the dawn of the Age of Enlightenment.

With its blend of political intrigue, underworld vice, and scientific enquiry, The Bloodless Boy reminded me of Ambrose Parry’s Will Raven and Sarah Fisher series of medical crime-thrillers, as well as Andrew Taylor’s Ashes of London series. With a strong narrative drive and an intriguing mystery, the pace rarely drops off. Whilst this may leave readers who like to spend a little longer getting to know their characters wanting more, those seeking a plot-driven crime thriller within a well-realised historical setting will find much to enjoy here.

The Bloodless Boy by Robert J Lloyd is published by Melville House and is available now from all good booksellers and online retailers including Hive, Bookshop.org, Waterstones, and Wordery.

My thanks go to Nikki Griffiths at Melville House Press for providing a copy of the book in return for an honest and unbiased review, and for inviting me onto and organising this blog tour. The tour continues until 25 November 2021 so do check out the other stops for more reviews and content!

Reviews on The Shelf are free, honest, and unbiased and I don’t use affiliate links on my posts. However if you enjoy the blog please consider buying me a coffee on Ko-Fi!

Reviews

REVIEW!!! The Diabolical Bones (The Brontë Mysteries #2) by Bella Ellis

Image Description: The cover of The Diabolical Bones has the silhouette of a woman in white against an etched drawing of a house. Below her is an open book, the pages swirling around her. The background is deep red. Golden tree branches surround the central image and, above it, there is a small image of a skull.

It’s Christmas 1845 and Haworth is in the grip of a freezing winter.

Charlotte, Emily and Anne Brontë are rather losing interest in detecting until they hear of a shocking discovery: the bones of a child have been found interred within the walls of a local house, Top Withens Hall, home to the scandalous and brutish Bradshaw family.

When the sisters set off to find out more, they are confronted with an increasingly complex and sinister case, which leads them into the dark world of orphanages, and onto the trail of other lost, and likely murdered children. After another local boy goes missing, Charlotte, Emily and Anne vow to find him before it’s too late.

But in order to do so, they must face their most despicable and wicked adversary yet – one that would not hesitate to cause them the gravest of harm..

Set a few months after the events of The Vanished Bride, this second novel in the Brontë Mysteries series finds Charlotte, Emily, Anne, and Branwell embroiled in a Christmas mystery the offers plenty of literary inspiration – but that, if not solved swiftly, could spell tragedy and danger for their community.

When the bones of a young boy are discovered hidden within a chimney at isolated Top Withens Hall, the Brontë siblings are soon drawn into complex tale of child labour, occultism, and missing children. Brutish Clifton Bradshaw, the master of Top Withens, is their most likely suspect – but rough as his manners might be, he swears he has no knowledge of how the bones came to lie within his house. As the sisters investigate, an old evil appears to be stirring around Haworth: one that puts the whole community – and the Brontë family – in danger.

Anyone familiar with the Brontë’s literary works will immediately recognise Top Withens Hall – supposedly the inspiration for Emily’s masterpiece, Wuthering Heights – and will delight in spotting the abundant references to other Brontë works woven throughout The Diabolical Bones. Indeed, the whole novel is infused with much of the wild, Gothic energy of Emily’s work – although, as with its predecessor, each of the Brontë sisters gets equal billing within the narrative.

Alternating between the perspectives of Anne, Emily, and Charlotte, one of the most wonderful – and poignant – aspects of this novel is the sense of character that Bella Ellis has been able to convey. Reading these novels, you get a real sense of the strength of each sister’s personality, and of their determination to succeed despite the limitations placed on them by their circumstances and by societal expectation. Anne, in particular, really lives on the page; her courage and kindness both coming across in equal measure. Reading these novels feels like being part of their circle – a true delight for anyone who has ever wanted to be friends with these extraordinary women – but also comes with a sense of poignancy when you remember that all that spark and brilliance was contained within such tragically short lives.

As for the mystery itself, The Diabolical Bones has a similarly taut and well woven narrative to its predecessor, often laying bare the grim realities of life behind the façade of respectable existence. The Gothic sensibilities infuse this second novel with a hint of the supernatural – and with a chilled and dark atmosphere that flits around the edge of the narrative and provides an ever-present sense of danger. This contrasts delightfully with moments of humour and warmth, such as Emily’s resignation when forced to cross the border into Lancashire, or the small yet meaningful interactions between Charlotte and her father’s curate, Arthur Nicholls.

There is also a wonderful sense of place within the book. Reading it transported me to the snowy moors – striding across them with Emily and Keeper, or brushing the snow off my hem and fussing over my hair alongside Charlotte. Having immersed myself once again in the world of the Brontë’s, I very much want to make visiting the landscape that so inspired them – and the parsonage that was their home – a reality in the not-too-distant future.

Fans of the Brontë’s work will, undoubtedly, love The Diabolical Bones – and should definitely seek out The Vanished Bride if they have not already done so – whilst fans of historical mysteries will find a darkly brooding yet rewarding tale that’s perfect for the Christmas season. That Bella Ellis (the Brontë-inspired pen name for bestselling author Rowan Coleman) adores their work is clear from the depth of research she has clearly conducted – and from the spirit and energy she has captured on the page. Novels featuring famous novelists of yesteryear can be a daunting read for fans – having a beloved author misrepresented on the page is a frustrating experience – but reading The Diabolical Bones bought me closer to the Brontë siblings – and made me return, yet again, to their marvellous works.

The Diabolical Bones by Bella Ellis is published by Hodder & Stoughton and is available now from all good booksellers and online retailers including Hive, Bookshop.org, Waterstones, and Wordery.

If you can, please support a local indie bookshop by ordering from them either in person or online! Some of my favourites include Booka Bookshop, The Big Green BookshopSam Read BooksellersBook-ishScarthin Books, and Berts Books

My thanks go to the publisher and to Netgalley UK for providing an e-copy of the book in return for an honest and unbiased review.

Reviews on The Shelf are free, honest, and unbiased and I don’t use affiliate links on my posts. However if you enjoy the blog please consider buying me a coffee on Ko-Fi!

Reviews · Seasonal Reads

REVIEW!! The Shadowing by Rhiannon Ward

Image Description: The cover of The Shadowing by Rhiannon Ward has golden ivy leaves against a grey backdrop of faded brickwork

When well-to-do Hester learns of her sister Mercy’s death at a Nottinghamshire workhouse, she travels to Southwell to find out how her sister ended up at such a place.

Haunted by her sister’s ghost, Hester sets out to uncover the truth, when the official story reported by the workhouse master proves to be untrue. Mercy was pregnant – both her and the baby are said to be dead of cholera, but the workhouse hasn’t had an outbreak for years.


Hester discovers a strange trend in the workhouse of children going missing. One woman tells her about the Pale Lady, a ghostly figure that steals babies in the night. Is this lady a myth or is something more sinister afoot at the Southwell poorhouse?


As Hester investigates, she uncovers a conspiracy, one that someone is determined to keep a secret, no matter the cost…

With the onset of Autumn and the turning of the leaves, my reading taste has once more turned to all things historical and spooky. Yes, I’m back in my Gothic reading comfort zone – and Rhiannon Ward’s second dose of historical spookiness, The Shadowing, proved to be the perfect fit for my autumnal reading mood!

The Shadowing follows Hester, the youngest daughter of a well-to-do family of Bristol Quakers. When the family learn that Hester’s elder sister Mercy has died at a Nottinghamshire workhouse, Hester is sent north to Southwell to find out exactly how her sister ended up in such a place, why she had not felt she could draw on the support of her fellow Friends in the area, and whether she has received the burial rites due to her as a Quaker.

As Hester journeys north, she is aware of a presence travelling with her. Beset by traumatic dreams and ghostly visions – ‘shadowings’ – since childhood, Hester knows it is Mercy who travels alongside her. And when she reaches Southwell Workhouse, she soon discovers why. Mercy was pregnant when she died – and although the Master and Mistress of the Workhouse claim both she and the child were taken by cholera, Hester soon discovers that there hasn’t been an outbreak for years.

With the reluctant aid of local innkeeper Matthew and his serving maid Joan, Hester sets about investigating what is really going on at Southwell Workhouse. Why are her new Friends – fellow Quakers Dorothea and Caroline – so reluctant for her to visit the place? Why does the young town doctor take such an interest in her visits there? And who exactly is the ghostly Pale Lady who terrifies the women and apparently steals babies in the depths of night?

As with her previous historical novel, The Quickening, Rhiannon Ward has provided a compelling and atmospheric blend of historical mystery and ghost story in The Shadowing. I was fascinated by the historical detail – from Hester’s Quaker background to the realities of life in the Workhouse, there’s a real sense of both time and place in the novel, and you can tell that the author has done her research – although it is lightly worn and woven expertly into the story.

The novel doesn’t shy away from portraying the grim realities of Workhouse life – especially for those deemed the ‘undeserving’ poor. I felt great compassion for the women (and, sadly, they were primarily women) forced to rely on the ‘charity’ of the parish due to abandonment or widowhood – and the novel does a great job of showing just how easy it would be for a young woman deemed ‘respectable’ and well-to-do like Hester to end up in a situation where her life – and her fate – is taken wholly out of her control.

Hester herself is a spirited main character. Although somewhat naïve – a result of her sheltered and strict upbringing – she is determined to get to the bottom of the unexplained deaths and disappearance at the Workhouse. I really liked the way in which Hester’s Quaker beliefs were woven into the plot, and the way in which they often ran counter to the more common ethos about who was ‘deserving’ of charity and the chance of redemption. Hester’s relationship with Matthew – the somewhat gruff and forthright publican at Southwell’s coaching in – is also really well done, moving from antagonistic to grudgingly respectful as the story progresses despite their very different upbringings and outlooks.

Although the supernatural element is stronger in The Shadowing than in The Quickening, Hester’s supernatural visitations and psychic senses are woven into the plot in a way that is wholly believable, and that adds an ever present sense of unease to the novel. Although Hester’s ‘shadowings’ are ghostly apparitions, the whole novel is imbued with an atmosphere of shadowiness (and some brilliant moments of foreshadowing), with Southwell itself quickly becoming a place of secrets and shadows, ready to leap at Hester from every corner.

Anyone who enjoyed The Quickening is sure to find The Shadowing a worthy follow-up, packed with the same level of historical detail and a brilliantly eerie atmosphere, and headed up by another strong and determined female lead. With its blend of historical mystery and supernatural happenings, The Shadowing is also the perfect fit for fans of Laura Purcell and Anita Frank, and an excellent addition to the popular genre of Modern Gothic.

The Shadowing by Rhiannon Ward is published by Trapeze (Orion) and is available now from all good booksellers and online retailers including Hive, Bookshop.org, Waterstones, and Wordery.

If you can, please support a local indie bookshop by ordering from them either in person or online! Some of my favourites include Booka Bookshop, The Big Green BookshopSam Read BooksellersBook-ishScarthin Books, and Berts Books

My thanks go to the publisher and to Netgalley UK for providing an ecopy of the book in return for an honest and unbiased review.

Reviews on The Shelf are free, honest, and unbiased and I don’t use affiliate links on my posts. However if you enjoy the blog please consider buying me a coffee on Ko-Fi!

Blog Tours · Reviews

BLOG TOUR!!! A Murder at Rosings by Annette Purdey Pugh

When Mr Collins is found stabbed to death in Lady Catherine de Bourgh’s garden, simmering tensions are revealed beneath the elegant Regency surface of the Rosings estate.

The prime suspect is Mr Bennet, who was overheard arguing with Mr Collins over the entail of Longbourn in the days before the murder was committed, and who stands to benefit more than anyone from the Rector’s death.

His daughter Mary uncovers a scandalous secret that holds the key to the murder. Can she prove her father’s innocence in time to save him from the gallows?

As a lover of all things Austen, I have eagerly devoured several Austen-adjacent novels and ‘sequels’ over the years. Most have centered on Elizabeth Bennet: she’s fought zombies (Pride and Prejudice and Zombies), and solved a murder (Death Comes to Pemberley) but, more recently, other characters have come to the fore. From servants (Longbourn) to Charlotte Lucas (Charlotte), to Mary Bennet (The Other Bennet Sister), Austen’s most famous novel seems to invite infinite re-tellings.

Annette Purdey Pugh’s debut novel, A Murder at Rosings, is an imaginative addition to this contemporary tradition, moving the action away from Longbourn and Pemberley to Rosings, the home of the formidable Lady Catherine de Bourgh. Mr Collins, one-time suitor to Elizabeth Bennet and heir to the Longbourn estate, has been found stabbed to death in Lady Catherine’s garden.

The pompous vicar was overheard arguing with Mr Bennet in the days before his death – and it appears Mr Bennet may be the only person who benefits from the Rector’s death. It is left to Mary Bennet, with the support of her new friend Anne de Bourgh, to try and uncover the key to the murder. As the official investigation gathers pace, Mary uncovers a scandalous secret that could change Rosings forever.

Offering an interesting perspective on some of Austen’s well-known characters, A Murder at Rosings is an entertaining ‘cosy’ mystery (although there is mention of and allusion to sexual assault and sexual coersion, albeit without any graphic language or content) with plenty of twists and turns, as well as an insight into the ‘below stairs’ life of a great house such as Rosings.

Whilst characters remained true to Austen’s depictions of them, Annette Purdey Pugh has fleshed out ‘incidental’ characters such as Mary Bennet and Anne de Bourgh with nuance, developing character traits from Austen’s novel to create fully rounded and believable characters that have additional depth. Lady Catherine, for example, remains aloof and opinionated but is shown to also be a genuinely caring mother and a reasonable employer.

In addition, Purdey Pugh has created some interesting original characters – the local magistrate, Sir John Bright, acts as a reasoned and reasonable principle investigator into the crime and is ably – if naively – assisted by local constable Robert Archer. There are also plenty of red herrings to detract from the main plot – a pair of suspicious stable boys, a frightened young orphan – that keep the pages turning and the mind whirring!

My only quibble is that, despite the blurb, Mary doesn’t really do much ‘investigating’ – this is not like Elizabeth in Death Comes to Pemberley, placing herself at the forefront of the investigation. She does discover a crucial piece of evidence but if you’re looking for a Bennet centered book, Murder at Rosings isn’t it. Sir John and Archer lead the investigations and Murder at Rosings is, on the whole, an ensemble affair featuring a range of Austen’s characters – such as Mary – in ‘walk-on’ parts. Still interesting, but arguably not ‘as advertised’ in the blurb.

Imaginative and interesting, this was a light and engaging mystery that ably expands on Austen’s original whilst remaining true to the spirit, character, and style of her works. Pacy and page-turning, the central mystery has some intriguing twists that will keep you guessing, whilst Austen fans are sure to enjoy revisting some of her beloved characters in a new setting.

A Murder at Rosings by Annette Purdery Pugh is published by Honno and is available now from all good booksellers and online retailers including Hive, Waterstones, Bookshop.org, and Wordery.

f you can, please support a local indie bookshop by ordering from them either in person or online! Some of my favourites include Booka Bookshop, The Big Green BookshopSam Read BooksellersBook-ishScarthin Books, and Berts Books

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 30 June 2021 so do check out the other stops for more reviews and content.

Reviews on The Shelf are free, honest, and unbiased and I don’t use affiliate links on my posts. However if you enjoy the blog please consider buying me a coffee on Ko-Fi!

Blog Tours · Reviews

BLOG TOUR REVIEW!!! The Plague Letters by V. L. Valentine

WHO WOULD MURDER THE DYING…

London, 1665. Hidden within the growing pile of corpses in his churchyard, Rector Symon Patrick discovers a victim of the pestilence unlike any he has seen before: a young woman with a shorn head, covered in burns, and with pieces of twine delicately tied around each wrist and ankle.

Desperate to discover the culprit, Symon joins a society of eccentric medical men who have gathered to find a cure for the plague. Someone is performing terrible experiments upon the dying, hiding their bodies amongst the hundreds that fill the death carts.

Only Penelope – a new and mysterious addition to Symon’s household – may have the skill to find the killer. Far more than what she appears, she is already on the hunt. But the dark presence that enters the houses of the sick will not stop, and has no mercy…

V. L Valentine’s The Plague Letters opens with the Reverend Symon Patrick, newly returned to London by order of his patron and regretting both his enforced return and his separation from the vivacious Elizabeth. Symon returns to a city filled with fear and a household in uproar – during his absence, bubonic plague has arrived and Londoners are fleeing to the country if they can. And in the midst of the chaos, one of Symon’s maids has gone missing.

When the missing maid turns up dead, no one – least of all Symon – is surprised. The body shows unusual signs – a shaved head, strange inked markings, signs of restraint – but London is full of superstition, quacks, and dubious medicines. But when another young woman arrives in the same condition, Penelope – a new and quick-witted addition to Symons household – forces the reluctant reverend to take notice of the possibility of a killer in their midst. Someone, it seems, is attempting a series of misguided experiments in an attempt to rid London of the plague – and they’re more than happy to trial their ‘medicine’ on human subjects.

Desperate for answers, Symon is forced into an unlikely alliance. A group of medical ‘professionals’ – an eminent physician, a well-known surgeon, a charismatic ‘healer’, and a pioneering apothacary – have formed The Society for the Prevention and Cure of Plague. Despite their differences – and their personal eccentricities – these men seek to end London’s suffering. But is a killer hiding in their midst?

There were times, especially early on, when I wasn’t quite sure what sort of book I was reading with The Plague Letters. By turns gorily vivid in its descriptions of the deprivations bought about by the London plague, the next page might see a farcical comedy play out as the filthy surgeon Mincey starts a fistfight with drunken apothecary Boghurst, or court favourite Valentine Greatrakes flounces into the room with a knowing smile and a witty retort. Turn the page again and you’re in the midde of a romantic drama, as Symon continues his illicit correspondance with the flirtateous – and very much married – Elizabeth. It’s as if V. L. Valentine has reached into 1665 and pulled out a slice of London life, upending it onto the page in all of its chaotic, messy, and gruesome glory.

Get used to the sudden lurches in tone however, and The Plague Letters offers a rich and rewarding mystery enveloped alongside deeply evocative depiction of plague-ridden London. The characters, whilst not always especially likeable, leap off the page, pulling the reader into their messy lives – and into their hunt for an increasingly unhinged killer. V. L. Valentine has a real eye – and ear – for the strange and the absurd, brilliantly capturing both the dark humour and the grit of the bodily experiences evoked on the page.

Symon makes for an interesting – and occasionally infuriating – main narrator. Suffering from melancholy and increasingly embroiled in relationships he neither fully understands nor fully appreciates, he is a man whose inner demons constantly wrestle with his better angels. Once paired with clever, mysterious Penelope however, Symon soon begins to untangle his knotty mess of life choices and I enjoyed seeing the pair’s relationship develop from antagonistic tolerance to trust over the course of the novel. Although the ending leaves many of the personal mysteries within the characters lives opaque or unresolved, I still felt as if I had got to know – and even to like – these flawed and changeable people by the of the book.

The eccentricity of style – that alignment of the grim and the grimly funny – may put some people off The Plague Letters but settle into this novel and you’ll find a cleverly-plotted mystery, some fantastially realised characters, and a deeply evocative depiction of seventeenth-century London. It’s as if Imogen Hermes Gowar’s sublimely eccentric The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock had been combined with the tension of Andrew Taylor’s Ashes of London and the mystery of Antonia Hodgson’s A Devil in the Marshalsea. Fans of historical crime will find much to delight in – as will anyone who enjoys being dragged in to a book and taken along for a wild and unpredictable ride!

The Plague Letters by V. L. Valentine is published by Viper Books and is available now from all good booksellers and online retailers including Hive, Bookshop.org, Waterstones, and Wordery.

My thanks go to the publisher and Netgalley UK for providing an e-copy of the book in return for an honest and unbiased review, and to the publisher for inviting me onto this blog tour. The tour continues until 12 April so check out the other stops on Twitter and Instagram for more reviews and content!

Blog Tours · Reviews

BLOG TOUR REVIEW!!! The Drowned City by K. J. Maitland

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!

The Drowned City by K. J. Maitland is published by Headline and is available now from all good bookshops and online retailers including Hive, Bookshop.org, Waterstones, and Wordery.

If you can, please support a local indie bookshop by ordering from them either in person or online! Some of my favourites include Booka Bookshop, The Big Green BookshopSam Read BooksellersBook-ishScarthin Books, and Berts Books

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.

Reviews on The Shelf are free, honest, and unbiased and I don’t use affiliate links on my posts. However if you enjoy the blog please consider buying me a coffee on Ko-Fi!