Most helpful critical review
on 14 November 2015
I previously read The English Monster which I thought a good debut. This novel follows on from that one but also works as a standalone. Thankfully the author relied less upon supernatural goings-on in this novel, though there are some unexplained occurences, none of which are adequately explained.
I find Shepard's style of writing fairly hard-going and often have to force myself to keep reading, or to reread entire passages. I think this is because I usually read contemporary literature whereas Shepard writes in a style befitting the period in which the stories are set. Clearly, this was his intention, and he would no doubt have been criticised had he chosen to write in a more modern style - so I feel a little unfair saying this. However, for me, one of the marks of a good novel is that you fall so deeply into it that you forget you're reading at all. Unfortunately that wasn't the case for me with this book or its predecessor, and neither is it the case with his latest title, Savage Magic, which I'm almost halfway through.
That said, there's obviously something that keeps me reading: Shepard does a good job of highlighting some of the murkier aspects of British history, giving the stories additional weight. Characterisation is fairly well accomplished, though I have to say I find it difficult to feel any real connection with anyone, even Abigail.
Unfortunately some of Shepard's metaphors seem unnatural, irrelevant or unnecessary. He also tells rather than shows too often for my liking, and I wish he'd remove some of the unnecessary adjectives. He uses two when one would suffice or when none are required. It doesn't help the flow of the text, serving only to lengthen already wordy sentences.
Finally, I wasn't entirely convinced by the ending (the bit involving Horton's wife) which leads neatly into the next book.
(SPOILER ALERT!) Would the intelligent wife of a police constable really consume an unknown substance given to her by a stranger? I think not... Also, use of entheogens is most often associated with the opposite kind of result to the one described in the story. This didn't sit comfortably with me, especially when the historical elements seem to have been well researched and accurately presented. Disappointing....