Beneath London by James P Blaylock
The collapse of the Victoria Embankment uncovers a passage to an unknown realm beneath the city. Langdon St. Ives sets out to explore it, not knowing that a brilliant and wealthy psychopathic murderer is working to keep the underworlds secrets hidden for reasons of his own. St. Ives and his stalwart friends investigate a string of ghastly crimes: the gruesome death of a witch, the kidnapping of a blind, psychic girl, and the grim horrors of a secret hospital where experiments in medical electricity and the development of human, vampiric fungi, serve the strange, murderous ends of perhaps St. Ives s most dangerous nemesis yet.
Last week I found myself stuck betwixt the horns of the trickiest dilemma.
I really, REALLY, don’t like jumping into a series on the third or fourth book. I’m always worried that I will miss out on the subtle nuances of the characters, and in doing so, I will fail the author. I’m constantly concerned that any review I write will ultimately be a dis-service to the contents of said novel. I have politely declined requests whenever I spotted that the book in question was part of an on-going series if I hadn’t read the earlier novels. This rule of thumb has served me well for the last five years and there has never really been a problem up until now. All was well up until the point that I saw the cover for Beneath London. I’ll admit that I am a sucker for a good slice of steampunk, so I didn’t stand a chance. There is a gentleman wearing a top-hat, bedecked with goggles, and this fine fellow is also sporting a resplendent moustache and beard. There is even the suggestion of some sort of airship in the background. I was utterly powerless to resist. Concerned, but curious, I decided I needed to take a chance. I’m so very glad that I did though, the author has written other books set in this same universe but they can be read as standalone tales.
Professor Langdon St. Ives and his wife Alice seem to have the uncanny knack of finding themselves in the midst of evil schemes. Langdon is an amiable, inquisitive sort who just can’t let a good mystery pass him by. Alice is equally as curious so it’s hardly a surprise that within a few short chapters we’re already knee-deep in murder, mayhem and more subterranean shenanigans than you can shake a stick it.
The premise of the story is simple enough. Who is the enigmatic Mr Klingheimer, and what does he want with the St Ives’ friend, Clara? How does this malevolent mastermind’s scheme tie in with the world that lies beneath the city streets? It’s up to the good professor, his wife and their assorted friends to figure it all out.
Of the other characters, I have to admit a soft spot for a fellow called Beaumont. There are also the Frobishers. Gilbert and his nephew, Tubby, are great fun. Always on hand to assist the St Ives, Tubby is particularly keen on the occasional second breakfast and the opportunity to crack a few heads. I’m keen to go back and explore the other books in this series so I can find out how the fit into Langdon’s world.
The thing I most enjoyed about the writing? All the characters have a magnificently erudite turn of phrase. The interactions between characters are very well realised. The back and forth flow of conversation is all terribly proper. For someone, such as I, who takes great delight in language, this was a joy to discover. I could happily listen to these characters converse endlessly.
When it comes to steampunk I’m always curious to see how an author will tweak and twist our nation’s capital to fit within the confines of their tale. In this instance, the interpretation of London suggests a shadowy and evocative place. Lots of dark alleys and evil deeds to happen upon; works for me.
In hindsight it is hardly a surprise I enjoyed this novel so much. For goodness sake, even the author has a suitably steampunk-esque name. Well James P Blaylock, sounds pretty damn steampunky to me. My first experience of this author has been an entirely positive one. This is a thoroughly entertaining work, with plenty of action and a plot that races along nicely. The good news, from my perspective at least, is that there are other novels already available featuring more of these characters and their exploits. Based on my enjoyment of this book I fully intend to read them. Of one thing you can be completely certain, I will most assuredly be back from more.
Beneath London is published by Titan Books and is available now. How very splendid.