4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 2 February 2013
I received a free copy of 'The Aylesford Skull' from the publisher through a giveaway on Goodreads.com.
Although this is actually the seventh novel in the 'Langdon St Ives' series, it is the first of James P Blaylock's novels that I've come across. It is also the first full length Steampunk novel I've read.
Under usual circumstances, I would never consider reading a novel that far into a series when I haven't read all of the previous instalments. However, I was just so intrigued by the premise of this book that I couldn't resist. The blurb proclaimed
It is the summer of 1883 and Professor Langdon St. Ives - brilliant but eccentric scientist and explorer - is at home in Aylesford with his family. However, a few miles to the north a steam launch has been taken by pirates above Egypt Bay; the crew murdered and pitched overboard. In Aylesford itself a grave is opened and possibly robbed of the skull. The suspected grave robber, the infamous Dr. Ignacio Narbondo, is an old nemesis of Langdon St. Ives.
When Dr. Narbondo returns to kidnap his four-year-old son Eddie and then vanishes into the night, St. Ives and his factotum Hasbro race to London in pursuit...
Who could resist that kind of plot? Not me. So I got stuck in, determined not to let the fact that I had no prior knowledge of the characters taint my reading. And I'm glad I did. I can honestly say that you don't need to know anything at all about St Ives or his nemesis Narbondo before you open the book. Everything you need to know you can pick up in the pages of 'The Aylesford Skull'. Important plot points from previous novels are referenced well, without going into overly-done flashback mode and I really didn't feel as though I'd missed out on too much background information.
The action began immediately and it sucked me straight into the world of Langdon St Ives, the hero of the novel. St Ives is an interesting hero. He's a typical Victorian gentleman with a not so typical talent for solving mysteries and averting crimes. He's attempting to live a comfortable and relaxing life in Aylesford with his wife and two young children. But as you might expect, things don't go according to plan when St Ives old nemesis Dr Ignacio Narbondo arrives on the scene.
I hate to admit it, but Narbondo, the perfect villain might just be my favourite character in the novel. He is so perfectly evil and dedicated to his dark ways that he fascinated me. Blaylock certainly knows how to write a villain and the hunchbacked doctor keeps coming into my mind even days after closing the book. For me, that's always a sign of good storytelling.
The novel itself was beautifully written, stylistically flawless and full of intricate details that really make the reading experience special. The novel moved at a steady pace, the plot moving forward without any slumps. And then when the climax began to come into sight, I began to turn the pages faster, the chapters coming and going before my eyes at a much faster pace. The momentum increased to match the level of action and I flew through probably the last third of the book in a day. An ending like that, one that fires up and keeps you guessing with its plot twists and suspense-inspiring characterisation is such a rare treat that I was sad to turn the final page.
The rest of Blaylock's Langdon St Ives novels are now on my Wish List. I need another dose of Blaylock's Steampunk London. A definite recommendation to anybody who loves Sci-fi or historical fiction.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
OK, I'm coming at this as a newbie to the writing of James P Blaylock, and whilst I know he's been established as a Steampunk author for many years, I was a little apprehensive to pick up this book as I wasn't sure what to expect. Yes I expected a mystery, some cracking twists which when blended with the Victoriana would take me on one hell of a journey but when an author hasn't released for so many years, you have to wonder how well he knows the current audience and if his writing will translate as well as it did originally.
What I received within this book was a highly imaginative story, some cracking fully fledged characters and a tale that really delivered what I was hoping for, yet for all that I have to say that for me, I found it quite hard to get into as the writing style felt a little outdated for my own personal tastes.
Don't get me wrong it's definitely a strong book, the twists will more than satisfy and if you love Steampunk its going to more than hit the spot, but when you get a writing style that is hard to follow until you get used to the way the authors prose comes across, it's going to be a story that is going to take some time to get behind. All round, a cracking title but please remember to stick with it as otherwise you'll be missing something special.
on 10 May 2014
Review based on an ARC, supplied by the publisher.
I broke one of my rules for this one. I generally hate to start a series anywhere but book one. I'm not even completely sure what number in the series this one is. The villain has appeared in at least one book without the hero, and I believe the hero is in at least three previous novels and several short stories. I had, however, accepted an actual print copy of this one for review, and to catch up on all the previously published material would've taken too long, especially as Titan Books don't plan on reissuing the two previous Langdon St. Ives books they have on their schedule until one and two months respectively after this one. In any case I'm pleased to report that it isn't necessary to have read the others to follow this one.
The first thing I noticed upon opening the book was that they'd printed the text in sepia. I'd have missed that clever detail on my Kindle. It sets the tone nicely.
James P. Blaylock is one of the literary pioneers of the Steampunk movement. Some would claim he pretty much invented that hybrid genre. Perhaps this explains why he is able to employ such a degree of subtlety to his steampunk world-building. Certainly this novel (I can't speak for the others) is not overwhelmed by the trappings of Steampunk. There is an airship in the book, but it's not employed until fairly late on and apart from a fascinating cross between steampunk technology and necromancy, employed by the villain Narbondo, that's about it! The rest could pretty much take place in the real world of the late 19th Century.
It's a fairly long book, with a lot of characters on both sides of the conflict, but I never found it less than gripping. In fact I sped through it in just two sittings. I especially enjoyed the way Blaylock split his heroes up and had them all working vaguely towards the same end, while having no clear idea where the others were, or what they were up to. Even so, he managed to keep a tight control on who was where and when, so that the action ties up properly in the end.
Scientist and explorer Langdon St. Ives is a pretty laid back sort of hero. He shrugs off an attempt by Narbondo to poison his entire family remarkably easily and doesn't get really riled up until his four year-old son is kidnapped.
St. Ives' son, Eddie is an unusually capable child for his age, adapting easily to strange situations and generally keeping his head. I can see that some readers would find that somewhat unrealistic. I found myself wondering if we weren't witnessing the birth of a new hero, whose life might be explored further in books set at the turn of the Century (this one takes place in 1883) through the 1920s and 1930s?
Narbondo is deranged, as all such villains should be. His plot to overthrow the throne and government would leave even the likes of Fu Manchu speechless. Off-the wall doesn't cover it!
I actually found the female characters generally more interesting than the males and would like to see more of Alice St. Ives and Mother Laswell. I feel they could even carry a book on their own, without the help of their menfolk.
The climactic scenes are spectacular to say the least, and I found it hard not to visualise it in terms of a Hollywood Blockbuster. The treatment given Sherlock Holmes in the Robert Downey Jr. movies would probably work much better (or at least offend fewer purists) with Langdon St. Ives as the male lead character.