First Sentence: The noise was the worst.
A raging fire has destroyed part of London, including St. Paul’s Cathedral. In the remains is found a body. Not a victim of the fire, but someone who has been mutilated and with his thumbs tied together behind his back: a sign of those who committed Regicide by signing the death warrant for Charles I. Richard Marwood, a reluctant government informer and son of those who committed treason, is charged with finding the killer. Cat Lovett, whose missing father was also part of the treasonous group, desires to be an architect but instead is struggling to survive.
The author’s notes at the beginning of the book are not only important to understanding the background of the story but are also quite fascinating. The story’s opening is evocative, visual and immediately captivating. Into the midst of it all, we are introduced to our first surprise followed by a revelation about one of our two protagonists.
Taylor creates fascinating characters and intermingles them with actual historical figures, yet without ever allowing the fictional characters to be overshadowed. As well as carrying the story, they facilitate the conveying of historical facts about which we may never have heard, such as the group known as the Fifth Monarchists. Still, it is Richard, Cat, Mrs. Alderley, Master Hakesby who play critical roles. Mrs. Alderly, in particular, is an interesting character. There is much more to her than we first believe.
There is always the sense that much is going on behind the scenes of which neither we, nor our protagonist, is aware. Although the fire is not a major focus of the story, the destruction of whole areas, and the impact on people’s lives, as well as the planning of rebuilding does play, in part, an important role. We are also reminded that some things haven’t really changed in 600 years; women are still held responsible for men’s indiscretions, and that environs of sanctuary are not a new concept.
Taylor moves seemlessly between the storylines of Richard and Cat. He brings the two tantalizingly close, then separates them, then a bit closer still. When the two threads do meet, it is tense and very dramatic.
“The Ashes of London” is a very good read filled with “ashes and blood,” history, excellent characters, startling revelations and a twist one doesn’t see coming.
THE ASHES OF LONDON (Hist. Mys-Richard Marwood – London – 1666) - VG
Taylor, Andrew – 1st of trilogy
Harper Collins – Jan 2017