Circe by Madeline Miller

CirceTitle: Circe

Author: Madeline Miller

Genre: Fantasy/Mythology Retelling

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Published: 10th April 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 352

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: When I was born, the name for what I was did not exist. 

Circe is the daughter of Helios, the sun god, and Perse, a beautiful naiad. Yet from the moment of her birth, she is an outsider in her father’s halls, where the laughter of gossiping gods resounds. Named after a hawk for her yellow eyes and strange voice, she is mocked by her siblings – until her beloved brother Aeëtes is born.

Yet after her sister Pasiphaë marries King Minos of Crete, Aeëtes is whisked away to rule his own island. More isolated than ever, Circe, who has never been divine enough for her family, becomes increasingly drawn to mortals – and when she meets Glaucus, a handsome young fisherman, she is captivated. Yet gods mingle with humans, and meddle with fate, at their peril.

In Circe, Madeline Miller breathes life once more into the ancient world, with the story of an outcast who overcomes scorn and banishment to transform herself into a formidable witch. Unfolding on Circe’s wild, abundant island of Aiaia, where the hillsides are aromatic with herbs, this is a magical, intoxicating epic of family rivalry, power struggles, love and loss – and a celebration of female strength in a man’s world.

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Set in Ancient Greece, daughter of the sun god, Helios. and naiad, Perse, Circe is cast aside in the halls of their home as an outsider, mocked by her siblings and other gods, and named after a hawk. She is unlike anyone else, with her yellow eyes and strange voice – until her brother Aeëtes arrives, and finally, someone understands her. But still, she is isolated, as her sister, Pasiphaë marries Minos, and Aeëtes is sent away to rule his own island. So she begins meddling with mortals – Glaucus, a fisherman. When her spell backfires and he falls for her sister Scylla, the revenge she takes on Scylla sends her into an exile to Aiaia, where she traps sailors as pigs, and where one day, she meets Odysseus on his way back from Troy – a war of ten years and a journey back that has already taken several years – as told in The Odyssey. From here, Circe seals her fate as a mother and exile, and what she must endure for eternity.

The Circe (Kir-kee or Cir-cee) myth cycle is one of the most interesting myth cycles in Greek mythology. A sorceress and goddess, Circe’s most famous and well-known appearance is in The Odyssey with Odysseus when she turns his crew into swine and induces him to stay for a year on the island with her. As a witch, she used potions and magic to transform people into animals. Where most mythical retellings focus on the male heroes, Madeline Miller takes Circe’s tale and spins it into something new and fresh – Circe and what she did, her exile and how the other gods treated her and feared her – from her perspective of her role as a woman, as a goddess with the voice of a mortal but the body of a goddess and sorceress. It is Circe in her own words – what she did, what she felt when she was exiled and how she reacted to other divine figures sending their nymph daughters to her – to serve her, and in the eyes of the gods, give Circe companionship in her exile.

In Miller’s story, Circe’s dark revenge spell that she casts on her sister, Scylla, forms the backbone to this story. In a mythological world where each god, goddess and mythical figure crossover into each other’s myth cycles all the time, several other gods, goddesses and characters are woven in and out, such as Medea and Jason, seeking refuge away from Colchis, away from Aeëtes, and Pasiphaë and Minos, and the birth of the Minotaur. Madeline Miller has cleverly constructed a story that reads much like the ancient myths, but injected new life into them, amplifying the voices of the goddesses and sorceresses, and giving them a story where they are true to themselves, and where the reader goes on the emotional journey with them, never quite sure what to expect from them, or how to react to them.

Miler’s Circe is allowed to be human, though she tries to hide any instances of what the gods saw as human weakness, when it comes to her son, Telegonus, she does all she can to prevent what she fears the most. Each god and goddess show their good and bad side as well, and their ability to be heartless towards one character, yet at the same time, a patron towards another. Circe is shown as neither good nor bad, but in the grey areas in between, where many figures of mythology lie. As a lover of Greek mythology, seeing the female characters front and centre, in their own words, rather than the ancient texts, is intriguing and fascinating. Whilst still living in antiquity, modern authors give them agency and voice that ancient authors didn’t always, or that the myths didn’t allow for. The mythological world is fascinating in all its incarnations, and this latest Circe interpretation is no exception – she is feminist yet fits into her time in antiquity and uses this to her advantage, and she is individual – embracing every part of who she is because it what makes her Circe, not what Helios and the rest of her family wish she was. Circe is powerful and vulnerable in equal measure and is cautious about letting her guard down – and she is a heroine in her own right, standing up for herself and not letting the world dictate what she must do.

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Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (Illustrated Edition) by JK Rowling (Newt Scamander), Illustrated by Olivia Lomenech Gill

AU FB Illustrated-AU-Book-Jacket (1)Title: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (Illustrated Edition)

Author: JK Rowling (Newt Scamander), Illustrated by Olivia Lomenech Gill

Genre: Fantasy, Chidrens and YA

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Published: 7th November 2017

Format: Hardcover

Pages: 160

Price: $45.00

Synopsis: Celebrate 20 years of Harry Potter magic!

This glorious new edition of Newt Scamander’s Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (considered a classic throughout the wizarding world) features an extraordinary array of magical creatures, from Acromantula to Yeti via ten different breeds of dragon – all beautifully illustrated in full colour by the brilliantly inventive, Greenaway Medal shortlisted Olivia Lomenech Gill.

Famed Magizoologist Newt Scamander’s years of adventure and exploration have yielded a work of unparalleled importance, admired by scholars, devoured by young witches and wizards, and even made available to Muggles in the early years of this century. With this dazzling illustrated edition, readers can explore the magical fauna of five continents from the comfort of their own armchairs. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is essential reading at Hogwarts.

This new edition features the fully updated 2017 text – which includes new profiles of six magnificent beasts that inhabit North America and a new foreword by J.K. Rowling, writing as Newt Scamander.

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hp20_230As part of the twentieth anniversary of Harry Potter last year, JK Rowling re-released a special edition of Hogwarts textbook, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. Previously published in several different editions for Wizards and Muggles separately, this illustrated version is an exquisite addition to any Harry Potter library. Several new creatures have been added, such as the Thunderbird, the Wampus Cat and various other creatures found during Newt’s travels across the world when he first wrote the book, giving a larger scope to the wizarding world. Within these covers, there are new introductory notes from Newt by way of JK Rowling, discussing the differences in attitudes to magical creatures and wizards in different places. Each creature has a specific description and Ministry of Magic Classification, ranging from not so dangerous to extremely dangerous, as shown below.

X- Boring

XX – Harmless/may be domesticated

XXX – Competent wizards should cope

XXXX – Dangerous/requires specialist knowledge/skilled wizard may handle

XXXXX – Known wizard killer/impossible to train or domesticate

A previous edition in 2017 included the new creatures and the first editions made available through Bloomsbury and Comic Relief provided only text, and a few pictures by Tomislav Tomic, whose illustrations where wonderful, and the new ones by Olivia Lomenech Gill are beautiful.

Neither artist can be fairly compared, as they each have their own style, and each style, much like Jim Kay’s style in the illustrated novels contribute something unique to the book, and these full-colour illustrations bring the creatures to life in a new and vibrant way for fans of the Wizarding World of JK Rowling.

Olivia’s illustrations evoke the same magic and wonder as the words they sit with on the page, giving a better scope to the world of magical creatures. Though some have shorter descriptions, in the world of Newt Scamander, this would be down to what he could find out, especially during his time in America, where he was shown how secretive the world was in the movie. All in all, this is a delightful companion to the Harry Potter books to coincide with the 20th anniversary in 2017.

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Harry Potter: A Journey Through The History of Magic

journey through a history of magic.jpgTitle: Harry Potter: A Journey Through The History of Magic

Author: The British Library

Genre: Fiction/Exhibition Catalogue

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Published: 6th November 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 144

Price: $21.99

Synopsis: An irresistible romp through the history of magic, from alchemy to unicorns, ancient witchcraft to Harry’s Hogwarts – packed with unseen sketches and manuscript pages from J.K. Rowling, magical illustrations from Jim Kay and weird, wonderful and inspiring artefacts that have been magically released from the archives at the British Library.

This spellbinding book takes readers on a journey through the Hogwarts curriculum, including Herbology, Defence Against the Dark Arts, Astronomy, Divination and more. Discover the truth behind making the Philosopher’s Stone, create your very own potion and uncover the secret of invisible ink. Learn all about the history of mandrake roots and dragons, discover what witches really used their brooms for, pore over incredible images of actual mermaids and read about real-life potions, astronomers and alchemists.

The perfect gift for aspiring witches and wizards and any Harry Potter fan. Celebrating twenty years of Harry Potter magic, and produced in association with the British Library to support their major exhibition, Harry Potter: A History of Magic.

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In this family-oriented volume of the exhibition catalogue, Harry Potter’s world is revealed in an interesting and accessible way. The previously reviewed volume, Harry Potter: A History of Magic, contains essays and more facts and images of artefacts that are geared towards the historically minded. In this volume, the same chapters have been condensed for a younger audience, and peppered with some of the more interesting artefacts, such as character portraits by Jim Kay, scans of original drafts by JK Rowling and mostly, historical artefacts that relate directly to things in the book. This edition also has activities peppered throughout, aimed at children to try with their parents. As with Harry Potter: A History of Magic, this book is divided into the following sections that follow the subjects undertaken at school, with a few additional ones In place of the longer introduction and essays in the longer, more in-depth volume: The Magical World of Harry Potter, The Journey, Potions and Alchemy, Herbology, Charms, Astronomy, Divination, Defence Against the Dark Arts, Care of Magical Creatures, Past, Present and Future, The British Library, and JK Rowling.  Each chapter has a brief synopsis of the type of magic, specific to Harry’s world, with real world and Wizarding World examples, presented in less depth but no less interest and magic than in the longer version. In fact, it is hard to decide which I prefer more – as a historian, the other one gives greater insight to the history, whereas this one has a hint of whimsy and fun about it for a younger audience. That said, fans of any age will enjoy both these volumes immensely.

hp20_230For those Harry Potter fans who are unable to attend the exhibition themselves, these books allow them to take the journey themselves, and imagine that they are there. It would be lovely to see this in person, but I can at least experience a taste of it through this volume, and its companion, Harry Potter: A History of Magic. I hope we get more insight into this world through other text books, such as Hogwarts: A History.

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Harry Potter: A History of Magic

A history of magicTitle: Harry Potter: A History of Magic

Author: British Library

Genre: Exhibition Catalogue/Fiction

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Published: 6th November 2017

Format: Hardcover

Pages: 256

Price: $49.99

Synopsis: Harry Potter: A History of Magic is the official book of the exhibition, a once-in-a-lifetime collaboration between Bloomsbury, J.K. Rowling and the brilliant curators of the British Library. It promises to take readers on a fascinating journey through the subjects studied at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry – from Alchemy and Potions classes through to Herbology and Care of Magical Creatures.

Each chapter showcases a treasure trove of artefacts from the British Library and other collections around the world, beside exclusive manuscripts, sketches and illustrations from the Harry Potter archive. There’s also a specially commissioned essay for each subject area by an expert, writer or cultural commentator, inspired by the contents of the exhibition – absorbing, insightful and unexpected contributions from Steve Backshall, the Reverend Richard Coles, Owen Davies, Julia Eccleshare, Roger Highfield, Steve Kloves, Lucy Mangan, Anna Pavord and Tim Peake, who offer a personal perspective on their magical theme.

Readers will be able to pore over ancient spell books, amazing illuminated scrolls that reveal the secret of the Elixir of Life, vials of dragon’s blood, mandrake roots, painted centaurs and a genuine witch’s broomstick, in a book that shows J.K. Rowling’s magical inventions alongside their cultural and historical forebears.

This is the ultimate gift for Harry Potter fans, curious minds, big imaginations, bibliophiles and readers around the world who missed out on the chance to see the exhibition in person.

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For twenty years, the Wizarding World of Harry Potter and Hogwarts have charmed the world, adults and children alike. From the very first lines about the perfectly normal Dursleys in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone to the final words of Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows as a new generation begins Hogwarts, millions of people have been captivated by Harry and his friends. To celebrate the twentieth anniversary, new House editions, and various related books have been published. To coincide with this anniversary, The British Library has curated an exhibit of Harry Potter memorabilia, and related historical and literary items that have been associated with magic across the world throughout history, and influenced the subjects and the world of Harry Potter. Harry Potter: A History of Magic is a journey not just through Harry’s world but an entire historical and literary world of magic and beliefs in magic.

hp20_230From Potions to Magical Creatures, Herbology and Charms, this book has it all. The world of magic is varied, diverse and complex, and the history behind it is fascinating. Covering the power of words – Charms and the origins and ideas behind some of the magical creatures in Fantastic Beast’s and Where To Find Them, such as dragons and their eggs, the phoenix and unicorns, and their real life counterparts and imaginings as shown in ancient and medieval texts, which are part of the curated exhibit, from various museum collections, and give insight into a pre-science understanding of the world that is fascinating and intriguing.

The exhibition catalogue is separated into several chapters: The Journey, Potions and Alchemy, Herbology, Charms, Astronomy, Divination, Defence Against the Dark Arts, Care of Magical Creatures, and Past, Present and Future. Transfiguration is spoken about in Charms, and each chapter begins with an essay relating to the topic, where the Harry Potter subject is outlined, and a brief history given before historical, literary and Harry Potter specific images of artefacts are presented with notes, such as images of drafts of chapters in some books, and information about Fantastic Beasts and The Cursed Child.

Being able to read this book meant I was able to experience the exhibit from the page. Whilst I would love to go over to London and see this in person at the British Museum, the magic is not lost experiencing it on the page. You still get to see the images of the artefacts, and read the essays and notes, and see Jim Kay’s illustrations. It allowed me to immerse myself in the world beyond the books, and imagine being at the British Library, looking at the hand-written pages by JK Rowling that hold the first hints of the magic to come that charmed the world and that continues to do so.

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Wolf Children by Paul Dowsell

wolf childrenTitle: Wolf Children

Author: Paul Dowsell

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Published: 1st November 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 288

Price: $14.99

Synopsis: survival in the cellar of an abandoned hospital, Otto and his ragtag gang of kids have banded together in the desperate, bombed-out city.
The war may be over, but danger lurks in the shadows of the wreckage as Otto and his friends find themselves caught between invading armies, ruthless rival gangs and a strange Nazi war criminal who stalks them …

A climactic story of truth, friendship and survival against the odds, Wolf Children will thrill readers of Michael Morpurgo and John Boyne.

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Wolf Children begins as World War Two has ended, and Germany has fallen into the clutches of Russian occupation as the rest of the world wages the final few months of war in the Pacific. With Hitler gone, and the Nazi regime obliterated, those who remain in crumbling Berlin must endure the Russian control over their city until an agreement can be made about where the East and West will be divided. Their world has been turned upside down, and Otto, Helene, Erich and Klaus have turned their backs on Nazi ideology, perhaps never quite bought into it in the first place, and have accepted the fate of the regime and seek only to survive the invading armies, rival gangs and a strange Nazi war criminal who has taken an interest in Otto’s younger brother, Ulrich, who has never quite let go of the Hitler Youth.

 

In a world not always seen in World War Two historical fiction, the impact of the end of the war on German citizens who did not support the regime they lived under, but were kept silent out of fear is not always explored. Here, it is shown through the eyes of six children who appear to have nobody left but each other, and in a world of uncertainty and lack of shelter, food and money, they must learn to barter with what they can, and eat when food comes their way. In a world of uncertainty, these children can only rely on each other, and with their lives at stake, will they survive the next few months of post-war Germany?

 

The harrowing stories set during, and after World War Two, from any perspective, are deeply unsettling and raw, and at times, uncomfortable, with characters like Ulrich who cling to the vestiges of a failed regime – where their attitudes are not shied away from, but at the same time, condemned by the characters around them. These stories, whether historical fiction, or biographical, or non-fiction, are not meant to make us comfortable. They are meant to remind us of what dangerous language and divisive ideas and talk can lead to. I have read many books that are set in the turbulent inter-war, war and post war years this year, and none of them have shied away from the discomforts of the historical setting or the ideas and language that floated around then, yet at the same time, have presented them in an accessible way for the audience – in this case, children and young adults. It is a book that is humbling and can serve to remind adults too about what happened and that it must not happen again. The devastation of Germany shows the scars of war – in the buildings, in the crumbling walls and bricks, and in the rubble that surrounds the bartering markets. It shows in the half starved people, and in the children who forage for food and who fear anyone they don’t know.

 

Wolf Children is a story that will stay with me, and one that should be read to gain a broader perspective of these post-war years. In uncertain times, this book shows what people will do when they are desperate, and what it will take for them to turn their backs on what they thought they knew, and help those who are truly the only ones there for them. A brave story, that shows the flaws of humanity in dark and dangerous times for all, with a touch of hope ebbing through the novel.

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J.K. Rowling’s Wizarding World – The Dark Arts: A Movie Scrapbook

dark arts.jpg

Title: J.K. Rowling’s Wizarding World – The Dark Arts: A Movie Scrapbook

Author: Warner Bros

Genre: Fantasy, Children’s Literature

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Published: 10th August, 2017

Format: Hardcover

Pages: 48

Price: $24.99

Synopsis: Celebrate 20 years of Harry Potter magic!

hp20_230A fascinating guide to the Dark Arts of the Harry Potter films and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, these pages cover both Dark wizards and the heroes who rise up to combat them – from Dumbledore’s Army and the Order of the Phoenix to the Hogwarts Defence Against the Dark Arts class and the Aurors of MACUSA. This collectible volume comes filled with removable artefacts, such as ‘wanted’ posters, stickers and other extraordinary items.

Learn all about Voldemort, Death Eaters, Horcruxes, the Obscurus and more in this collectable movie scrapbook – packed with info, inserts and images from the Harry Potter and Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them films.

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The ever-expanding Wizarding World of JK Rowling started in 1997 as a novel, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, the beginning of seven book saga that would spawn companion text books – Quidditch Through the Ages by Kenilworthy Whisp, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them by Newt Scamander, and Tales of Beedle the Bard, the Wizarding World’s version of fairy tales. From here, eight movies, and a prequel series of movies centred around Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them has been spawned. As a result of these movies, several movie companions have been published, that focus on characters, and methods in the movies, sets and magical creatures.

The most recent of these is The Dark Arts, due out this month, exploring the darker side of Harry Potter. Starting with an introduction to the Dark Arts, the book then moves into profiles of Dark Wizards, such as Voldemort, discussing how they created his look in the movies, and the effects and make used to do this. Moving onto other Dark Wizards, Bellatrix Lestrange and her fate at the hands of Molly Weasley, a member of the Order of the Phoenix is included, and so a section is dedicated to this brave group who fight Voldemort and the Death Eaters. Each section on various aspects of Dark Magic is accompanied by fold out letters, posters and other paraphernalia that had been featured in the movies, which enhances the experience of reading the book and adds to all the fun, rediscovering Sirius Black’s wanted poster, and the list of Dumbledore’s Army, with a few secrets from the films that readers might not know, and will have fun discovering in this book as I did. The final pages of the book are dedicated the Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, and touch on those characters and Newt Scamander especially, who has a book of his own in the same series. This was a divine surprise from Bloomsbury and a wonderful accompaniment to my Harry Potter library.

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Exploring the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in this way adds an extra dimension to the books, films, scripts, play and music already out there in the world. It gives fans a chance to explore the movie beyond what is seen on the screen and interact with images, and articles from wizarding newspapers, such as The New York Ghost. It is a fantastic book, and one that will be treasured for years to come. A wonderful surprise from Bloomsbury that I read in one night, and that I am sure I will explore again, maybe even as I watch the films, or after watching them again.

Enjoy another wonderful book to help celebrate the 20th anniversary of Harry Potter!

The Bedlam Stacks by Natasha Pulley

bedlam stacks.jpg

Title: The Bedlam Stacks

Author: Natasha Pulley

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: Bloomsbury Circus

Published: 1st August, 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 352

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: An astonishing historical novel set in the shadowy, magical forests of South America, which draws on the captivating world of the international bestseller The Watchmaker of Filigree Street

Deep in uncharted Peru, the holy town of Bedlam stands at the edge of a forest. The shrine statues move, and anyone who crosses the border dies. But somewhere inside are cinchona trees, whose bark yields quinine: the only known treatment for malaria.

On the other side of the Pacific, it is 1859 and India is ravaged by the disease. The hunt for a reliable source of quinine is critical and in its desperation, the India Office searches out its last qualified expeditionary. Struggling with a terrible injury from his last mission and the strange occurrences at his family’s ruined estate, Merrick Tremayne finds himself under orders to bring back cinchona cuttings at any cost and dispatched, against his own better judgement, to Bedlam.

There he meets Raphael, a priest around whom the villagers spin unsettlingly familiar stories of impossible disappearances and living stone. Gradually, he realises that Raphael is the key to a legacy left by two generations of Tremayne explorers before him, one which will prove more dangerous and valuable than the India Office could ever have imagined.

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Ex- East India smuggler, Merrick Tremayne is at home in Cornwall, recovering from an injury to his leg that inhibits activity for him when the India Office contacts him about an expedition to Peru to fetch some quinine to help treat malaria outbreaks in India. Tremayne instantly knows it is a bad idea : every able-bodied explorer has been unsuccessful, paying with their life, so he questions how he, a disabled explorer, will cope, survive and succeed. Lumped with orders to go, Tremayne is accompanied by a friend, Clem, and they venture into Bedlam, a holy town in uncharted Peru that holds many secrets of the past, and a sense of magic and history that will slowly unfold throughout the five parts of the novel, and reveal secrets about a Tremayne ancestor that Merrick had been unaware of. Accompanied by a priest, Raphael, whose presence indicates something a little out of the ordinary, lending to a sense of fantastical and magical realism within the novel.

The Bedlam Stacks is steeped in history and colonialist ideas and expectations of “The Other”, typically seen through Tremayne’s companion, Clem, whose ignorance and the sense that he felt his knowledge was superior came through at times, in contrast to Tremayne, who I felt made the efforts to understand and communicate effectively with Raphael and show his appreciation for what Raphael was doing for him. In 1860, when disability and injury might be more likely to inhibit what one is able to do, Tremayne copes, albeit with help when he needs it, and in what felt realistic, he is shown to struggle, but readers also get to see what he is capable of, in all areas of his person. It is a travel story with a difference, where the explorers are faced with the harsh realities of an unknown world that challenges their sense of being and self, and shows them just how human and vulnerable they are. They need rescuing by locals, and at times, they are shown to be imperfect, punctures to their egos that their upbringing might have inflated.

I liked Merrick’s sense of humility, and ability to stand back and let Raphael talk. It was refreshing to see this move towards equal standing of characters of vastly different backgrounds, much of which are extrapolated through flashbacks, cleverly inserted into the text without disrupting the flow of the story, and the vast majority is told in first person, with the exception of one chapter towards the end that gives the reader insight into Raphael and his past. Raphael’s absences of long periods of time are explained as catalepsy – by Merrick, who hears of Raphael’s symptoms and urges him to see a doctor – perhaps a marker of how he sees the world, juxtaposed with Raphael’s acceptance of things being the way they are. In doing so, Pulley has illustrated how two different worlds collide, and through this collision, have attempted to find a way to communicate.

Throughout the novel, odd things happen at different times, marking this as more than just an expedition into history and unexplored, uncharted areas of the world as they would have been in the 1860s. These instances hint at elements of fantasy and magical realism, and this makes it a very intriguing novel, as the layers of each chapter and part are revealed slowly to bring the story to it’s conclusion and the wrapping up of the characters and their lives, but at the same time, leaving some aspects open for interpretation and maybe another novel.

It was a enjoyable novel, and has made me want to read Natasha’s first novel. The Watchmaker of Filigree Street. An enjoyable novel, and highly recommended for fans of historical fiction, mysteries and novels with that little bit of a difference that make them stand out.

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