This felt strangely familiar, or perhaps inevitable would be a better description. There are the down-trodden though spirited prostitutes of 18th–19th century London. There are the men who are persecuted for preferring boys. There are the spheres within spheres of clandestine work by and against the government – this time surrounding the aftermath of the Revolution in France. (Napoleon is waiting in the wings.) A character’s death which seemed probable was inevitable; the main character, Jonathan Absey, has a dogged determination to discover his daughter’s murderer which combines with a growing disregard for his own safety, professionally and physically, which has predictable results. (The man has some of the most truly, consistently terrible luck of anyone in the world, his or ours.)
I enjoyed parts of this book very much. The entire astronomical angle was fascinating – that strange cross between poetry and dreams and hard science, and the elusive planet they believed had to exist between Mars and Jupiter – the formulae were only slightly tortured, and while it might be something very like the “Kennedy had a secretary named Lincoln and Lincoln had a secretary named Kennedy, etc.” string of correlations, it’s still a fascinating thing. Despite some of the well-worn tropes that went into him, Jonathan’s half-brother Alexander had some real originality to him, and I enjoyed him and his past and his circumscribed world. Poor man – his luck isn’t much better than his brother’s. There were some good ideas for the espionage aspect. The setting was not done poorly; it was very vivid in places. The unfortunate thing was that it just felt like so many of the gaslit mysteries I’ve read. And the shocking revelation of who the killer was … wasn’t that shocking. Not as shocking as some of what happened to minor characters, at least. I had hoped that there was a sequel, perhaps, in which Alexander and Jonathan search for a person who goes missing near the end of the book – but I guess the little part of me that became invested in the book and its world will just have to go on worrying about him.
Honestly, I think it was largely the sheer unrelenting bad fortune Absey experienced that made this less than a favorite. Blow after blow after blow … in a way it’s reminiscent of Harry Dresden taking beating after beating and still plowing forward. But Harry has much more of a sense of humor, and so do the Dresden Files. And that makes all the difference.
(Various editions have had some really lovely covers, as above and – )