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Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Review of ASHES OF LONDON by Andrew Taylor

4 Stars 

This historical thriller is set in 1666 in the aftermath of the Great Fire.  Two young people are the focus.  In alternating sections, we follow James Marwood and Cat Lovett.  James is a minor clerk who becomes a reluctant government agent.  Several people in authority task him with finding people and investigating murders.  Cat is a young heiress who has to go into hiding because of an attack.

James and Cat meet by chance at the beginning of the novel, but they also have another connection.  Both of their fathers were Fifth Monarchists, religious zealots who were staunch anti-monarchists.  James’ father is in frail health and suffering from senility after years of imprisonment; James does his best to look after him, but he is always aware that his father’s past can affect his advancement in the world.  Cat’s father went missing after Charles II regained the throne and he is still actively sought; Cat tries to find her fugitive father whose past also affects her present.  Events conspire to bring James and Cat together again before the novel ends.

The main characters are credible and well-rounded.  James is a likeable character who always tries to do what is right though that may be difficult when he is manipulated by people in authority with secret agendas.  He is a dutiful son though he admits to sometimes resenting his father:  “Sometimes I hated my father almost as much as I loved him.  He brought down troubles on his own head, and also on the heads of those around him.”  Cat is also realistic, a good person but one who does not forgive easily; she is “a good hater.  She hoarded the hatred as a miser hoards his gold.” 

The plot is fast-paced.  Suspense is maintained throughout.  We know what each of the two protagonists knows and that information is more than each of them has.  Some of the suspense is created by the reader wondering when/if one of the two will learn something crucial that the other knows.  There is a great deal of political intrigue that adds to the dense layering.  As befitting the genre, there is a gripping climax.  The scene in the ruins of St. Paul’s Cathedral is a bit difficult to imagine but the danger in the situation is clearly conveyed. 

Historical fiction sometimes includes information dumps.  This book has a great deal of historical detail but it is nicely woven into the plot so the author’s research doesn’t overwhelm the narrative.  The amount of local colour does not let the reader forget that the setting is that of 350 years in the past.

This book was a great way to end my reading year.  I will certainly be reading more of Andrew Taylor’s offerings.