This story is a blend of fantasy and historical fiction, with a mystery and an investigation in the vein of the da Vinci code, but steeped in Arthurian lore and with a Sherlock Holmes flavor which didn’t fail to delight, entertain and keep me turning the pages.
There are meticulous descriptions (down to the liquors!) which I found very interesting and fitting in a story full of mysteries, ancient legends and treasure hunts because they added immensely to the atmosphere and I was instantly drawn to the characters and their lives.
The characters themselves merit a special mention, because they were all relatable, fun (or scary!) to be around, intriguing and, lo and behold, some of the protagonists are middle-aged! They are perfect in their roles, and very realistic with all the physical limits, life experience and emotional baggage I expected from them.
I liked Lord Alfred immediately; he is a historian in his twilight years, with the body of a healthy man of few indulgences and the mind of a voracious reader. However, he is by no means equipped with supernatural joints, so when he suddenly finds himself pulled into an ancient conspiracy which also turns into a race for his life (literally) it was interesting to see how his age played a part in his choices. He is also a man of gloved witticism, I always anticipate some dry humor from a gentleman living in Queen Victoria's England and I wasn't disappointed! Then there is William, not your average book dealer by half; Henry, who first approaches Lord Alfred with a fantastic tale and firmly believes in the philosophy of weekdays, but also Quinn, a coldblooded and "glorified clerk"…the list goes on, and I soon found myself with my sympathies divided because I rooted for several of them. Ah, did I mention Druids?
There is also a very engaging beginning. The novel is not without its flaws of course, but mine are just minor complaints, the recruitment part was a bit too easy, Alfred listens and gives few second thoughts to the revelations (no matter if he believes them or not) in Henry’s incredible tale, then there is the over friendly (and over knowledgeable) Vicar. My main problem was with Lord Alfred’s ailing wife because she is the catalyst of his involvement with the secret society (the reason a rational man throws his lot with a highly suspicious group of people), yet we her but briefly and he spends his days as a single man would. So I failed to connect with his grief.
Part of the action is set Lucca, Italy, a town I know by heart and that was a huge plus for me. What a delight is to look at its ancient walls or stroll through its windy medieval streets...needless to say, I examined the scenes there with particular care and...loved each minute of them!
The writing style is very pleasant, and I wouldn't be surprised if the author had some academic background on history and literature, I was truly impressed and this is a debut work to boot. I easily immersed in Alfred’s thoughts and POV, he is a great narrator and I’d love to read more of him (and of some others, but I don’t want to spoil the twists&turns!)
3.5 stars rounded to 4. As a fan of both historical fiction and fantasy I couldn’t pass the chance to read this standalone and I truly enjoyed the smooth ride.“I’m not entirely sure he’s still alive. If he is, he would have to be in his late eighties, so there’s no telling whether he still has his wits.”
Will laughed as he considered his companions.
“Then again, I’m not entirely sure that’s a strict requirement for offering us counsel.”