Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Series: Crown & Key #1
Published by Del Rey on June 2nd 2015
Purchasing Info: Author's Website, Publisher's Website, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Bookshop.org
They are the realm’s last, best defense against supernatural evil. But they’re going to need a lot more silver.
As fog descends, obscuring the gas lamps of Victorian London, werewolves prowl the shadows of back alleys. But they have infiltrated the inner circles of upper-crust society as well. Only a handful of specially gifted practitioners are equipped to battle the beasts. Among them are the roguish Simon Archer, who conceals his powers as a spell-casting scribe behind the smooth veneer of a dashing playboy; his layabout mentor, Nick Barker, who prefers a good pub to thrilling heroics; and the self-possessed alchemist Kate Anstruther, who is equally at home in a ballroom as she is on a battlefield.
After a lycanthrope targets Kate’s vulnerable younger sister, the three join forces with fierce Scottish monster-hunter Malcolm MacFarlane—but quickly discover they’re dealing with a threat far greater than anything they ever imagined.
In my week of bouncing off of everything, I finally looked for an urban fantasy, because they always reset my reading slumps. I found The Shadow Revolution in my towering TBR stack and it definitely fit the bill!
Urban fantasy generally borrows from both mystery and fantasy. In the case of The Shadow Revolution, it borrows from mystery, fantasy, steampunk and horror. Both urban fantasy and steampunk can sometimes have a very light touch, with elves in Minneapolis (The War for the Oaks by Emma Bull) or the Knights of the Round Table in Victorian London (The Gaslight Chronicles by Cindy Spencer Pape).
Except for the frequent line of snark, there is nothing light about The Shadow Revolution. It draws its inspiration from gaslight horror, and things are often darkest just before they turn completely black.
I called it gaslight horror because the settings are frequently the scariest in Victorian London, Bedlam and the neighborhoods around St. Giles. Also because while there are werewolves, the most frightening monsters in this story are the all too human mad scientist and his homunculi, part human, part machine survivors of his torturous experimentation. The homunculi are much more frightening than the werewolves. The werewolves, good or evil, are who they are born to be. The homunculi are what we could become at the hands of an evil person who loves to experiment for its own sake and doesn’t care who he hurts. In fact, he enjoys his victims’ pain, especially their pain at losing their humanity.
Then again, he’s clearly lost his a LONG time ago.
The story here is the coming together of forces to fight the tide of evil sweeping over this steam-powered Victorian London. We have three warriors, with vastly different skills, band together for their own sometimes selfish motives.
Simon Archer is a scribe, what we would call a wizard or a mage. While he hides behind a fashionable, rakish exterior, he has tattooed his greatest spells on the canvas of his skin, to be called upon when his need is most dire. Malcolm McFarlane is the tank. He is a pure warrior who always has guns up his sleeves and cannons for fists. That his father was tasked with murdering Simon’s father, and failed, does not make their relationship an easy one.
In the midst of what would otherwise be testosterone overload, we have the expert alchemist Kate Anstruther. In an era when women were supposed to be merely decorative and ornamental, Kate runs her missing father’s vast estate and continues with (and improves) his experiments in alchemy. Kate’s father and Simon’s father also have history, but not of the deadly variety, at least as far as they know. Their fathers worked together on something that enables instantaneous matter transportation, and the forces of evil want the device and its power. Many of those forces have an axe to grind against Simon or Kate or both. The hunt for the device has been long in the making, and the dark side wants someone to pay for their frustration in their search.
When the forces of evil target Kate’s willful younger sister Imogen as the way to get both the device and the revenge they crave, Kate, Simon and Malcolm are forced to use their powers to the fullest to get the girl back. At any cost.
Escape Rating A: While the point of view we see most often is Simon’s (I think the cover picture is intended to be Simon) we do get inside the heads of Kate and Malcolm enough to see everyone’s point of view. This story is filled with thrills and very, very definitely chills as the action and danger never let up for an instant, not even when the story ends.
One of the things I liked about this story was the way that it brings together all the characters. Everyone has history with everyone else, and everyone gets past it in order to fight the good fight.
My favorite character is Kate Anstruther. It is always refreshing to see a woman who has no compunctions about displaying that she is the equal of the men in the fight. Where Simon uses his spells, and Malcolm his brute strength, Kate comes into battle with a sword and a bandolier filled with potions. And while both men make the token attempt to protect her, when she refuses to be protected they back off and respect her right to fight alongside them.
Two characters drove me slightly crazy. A lot of what happens happens because Kate’s sister Imogen is an idiot. She’s also a very young woman, and to say someone is a young idiot is so often an oxymoron. Also the only mess Imogen might have expected to get into was to be seduced into marriage with a wastrel. No one expected werewolves and black magic until they burst onto the scene, and by then it was much too late for Imogen, she had already been ensorcelled in some way. That Kate doesn’t recognize Imogen’s condition even after her first disappearance and recovery surprised me. It was so easy to see that Imogen was compromised that her sister should have been the first to figure things out, instead of the last.
Simon’s mentor Nick Barker provides some fascinating insights on sorcery in steampunk London and on both courage and cowardice, sometimes at the same time. It’s clear that Simon looks up to Nick, who has helped him learn his craft. But once the stakes are raised, Nick lets Simon down. Where Simon has always wanted to use his craft to help set things right, Nick has been trying to get Simon to stay in the shadows and hide from both fellow practitioners and whatever evil is brewing. It was a very different way of seeing someone’s mentor fall. Usually they die, like Merlin and Gandalf and Dumbledore. This failure is more a failure of courage, as Nick just leaves the fight behind.
I wonder if he’ll be back?
This one will keep readers on the edge of their seats from start to finish. Also frequently shaking with the creeps. Those homunculi are very scary, but not, in the end, as scary as the man who creates them.
Thank goodness this is a trilogy and part two, The Undying Legion, is available. So, for that matter is part three, The Conquering Dark. I can’t wait to see where this story goes, and how dark things get before they finally find the light.