RogerBW's Blog

Spectred Isle, K J Charles 27 September 2023

2017 fantasy, first of a projected series. It's 1923, and most of England's occultists died during the War. But magical threats haven't gone away…

This is also a romance: Saul Lazenby is an archaeologist trying to build a life after he was disgraced and imprisoned during the war; he knows nothing about magic, but in his researches for a daft major who's the only person willing to employ him, he seems to keep running into it. Randolph Glyde is the last survivor of one of the old occultist families, and during his investigations he seems to keep running into Saul…

We get quite a gentle introduction to the setting, but it's a pleasing one: the same thing that killed most of the occultists has made occult problems more common, and there are tenuous connections drawn between a variety of real-world obscure places with occult rumours attached to them. (And Geoffrey de Mandeville. The one from the Anarchy.)

The research is pretty decent, with only a passing mention of a Sten gun striking me as profoundly out of place (it's only being used as a simile for a dangerous weapon, so talking of a Lewis gun would have got the job done). Also, you get me on your side by talking about that unpleasant occultist Karswell killed by a falling stone at St Wulfram's in Abbeville, and more by not making a huge thing out of it. This is very much the sort of world I enjoy, with magic newly important but still hidden from most people.

I just wish I liked the characters more. Both the principals are quite broken people, and to some extent they start to overcome that brokenness, but I never found myself particularly liking them. The sex scenes are well integrated with the characters and story rather than being pasted in, but when I'm reading about two men going at it I don't get the frisson that I'm obviously supposed to.

Not every book needs to be aimed squarely at me, of course, but it was a little unexpected to meet a setting that's such a good match for my tastes combined with characters who had little to say to me. Some minor characters, sole survivors of the British Army's wartime attempts at monster-making, seemed as though they were shuffled out of the way just when they were getting interesting in order to get back to Saul and Randolph.

A second book is planned, but has been delayed.

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