This one came to my attention as a review request and it honestly sounded all the way up my alley, and so I couldn’t resist.
Thanks to the authors, as well as Angry Robot for the review copy!
“Man of Science” Roger Weathersby scrapes out a risky living digging up corpses for medical schools. When he’s framed for the murder of one of his cadavers, he’s forced to trust in the superstitions he’s always rejected: his former friend, princess Sibylla, offers to commute Roger’s execution in a blood magic ritual which will bind him to her forever. With little choice, he finds himself indentured to Sibylla and propelled into an investigation. There’s a murderer loose in the city of Caligo, and the duo must navigate science and sorcery, palace intrigue and dank boneyards to catch the butcher before the killings tear their whole country apart.
“I know all about your time about the HMS Whalestooth.”
“Ah yes, my thrilling experience as the master gunner. Did you know the cannons of a warship must be cleaned by hand six times a day to prevent salt corrosion? It was non-stop adventure on the high seas, your highness. I became an expert in the various grades of chamois cloth to best bring out the sheen.”
This is the story of Roger Weathersby, a surgeon, or at least, a medical student of sorts, in the city of Caligo, which is very like Victorian London, but with a little more magic. Roger is also a resurrectionist, which more or less means he steals corpses and sells them to medical schools around the city. That’s how he funds his medical education.
It is also the story of Princess Sibylla, who is the granddaughter of the queen. In this world, the royal line have certain magical powers, which gives them the divine right to rule. And so Sibylla is expected to marry her first cousin to keep those magical traits within the bloodline. When she refuses, the queen exiles her to a distant holding to live more or less alone for two years, prior to the events of this book. Now she is back in Caligo, and trying to protect the identity of a half-brother, who the queen would likely kill to prevent magic from spreading to the commoners.
Roger and Sibylla have a past, wherein he was a scullion and footman in the palace and she tutored him, until it became more than that. They’ve gone their separate ways, but are still linked by Sibylla’s bodyguard and friend Harrod, who is Roger’s half-brother. When women keep showing up murdered, and Roger is blamed for it, Harrod concocts a plan to save his life, by binding him to Sibylla for life by blood magic. Roger has five days to prove his innocence before the ritual will begin.
This was certainly an interesting read, and very unique. The magical bloodlines aspect of the book was well fleshed out and easy for me to imagine. Sibylla, for example, has the power to leak ink from under her fingernails, which she uses not only to write, but also to make elaborate pictures in the air. She can also turn her skin translucent and glow, which is how she is expected to prove her ‘divinity’ more or less. It was an interesting idea.
There were a couple of reasons that this one just didn’t click with me as much as I had hoped. I did like Roger as a character, for the most part, and Sibylla to a much lesser extent. Roger makes some awful decisions, and is often oblivious to things that I would consider obvious, but I still found myself cheering for him. He’s got just enough snark that I couldn’t help it. But, that said, actually latching onto a character is probably one of the major reasons that the ending of this book soured a lot of the whole thing for me. I won’t spoil it, but suffice to say that I did not at all like the way that this book ended, in terms of the state of the protagonists. One of them got the shortest possible end to the stick, and after an entire book of more or less cheering for them, it was very disappointing, to be honest.
Parts of the mystery, or things that were likely meant to be bigger ‘twists’ to the plot seemed pretty obvious to me as well. I will say that the whodunnit and why was elusive enough throughout the book, so that was a welcome surprise at the reveal, but a lot of the finer details of the mystery I had guessed with some accuracy. Overall though, as a mystery, it did alright at keeping things under wraps.
So, all told, I went into this one hoping for a fun Victorian-Urban-Fantasy-Murder-Mystery, and while it is those things, it just wasn’t 100% my cup of tea. I found it really difficult to latch on to these characters, and then when I finally did latch on, the ending completely ruined any hopes I had for them. C’est la vie, I suppose. You can’t win them all. It’s entirely possible that this book will be oodles better in audio. It has a lot of promise as a good story to hear, if the narrators are good. 3/5 stars.