The Prussian bombardment of London at the end of the 19th century left it demoralised and easy prey to demons of various sorts, known as wych-kind, leading certain men and women to become wych-hunters. Now twenty years later an unexplained series of horrific murders seems to be connected with a black magic group called The Fraternity which is seeking to release the Dark Gods. Thaniel and Cathaline are wych-hunters who find Alaizabel Cray partly and unwittingly possessed by a wych who is key to the Fraternity’s plans. She must help them to stop those plans from succeeding.
The story draws you along for the most part, but it makes everything fairly easy to understand. You’re even told pretty much whodunnit by the time you’re half way through. There is very little which is indelicate or untoward: the hero, while taken with the heroine, is the soul of Edwardian propriety towards her. There are a couple of scenes which dwell a little on her undressed state. As to the demonic aspects of the story: the whole plot turns on various aspects of the Demons which infest London and the Black Magic which must be used to defeat or control them (depending on whose side you’re on).
The adventure side of it goes by well enough: young (wych) hunter rescues personable (and possessed) damsel in distress and then tracks (Black Magic) baddies to layer with much fighting (Demons) and chasing and sacrificing of friends. But the explanation chapter when the chief baddie explains all says a lot about the author’s ideas: “We take all our sordid guilt, all our hate, all our shame…and we fashion ghosts to haunt us and monsters to plague us.” and “That was when we stopped believing; that was when we truly entered the Age of Reason…It’s why we’re all here. Since the dawn of time, man has believed in something. Cavemen feared the fires from the sky…we had our churches… We always had someone to blame.” And just in case you missed the point, “The good Charles Darwin explained life, you see! Science takes great steps every day…Science has removed the need to believe in anything, because we can explain it all now.”
Tim Golden is a computer programmer living in London. This review first appeared on his website, goodtoread.org.