The Ashes of London
Book One of Marwood and Lovett
by Andrew Taylor
Historical Fiction | 496 Pages | Published by Harper Collins in 2016
| TL;DR |
As the Great Fire rages and the utter devastation of London becomes ever more apparent, murder, mayhem and conspiracy abound. In order to protect both himself and his father, James Marwood must solve the unfolding mystery as it cuts dangerously close to both home and the crown.
Wonderfully descriptive and incredibly evocative throughout, The Ashes of London is a feast for the senses that had me guessing to the very end.
| Synopsis |
London, September 1666. The Great Fire rages through the city, consuming everything in its path. Even the impregnable cathedral of St. Paul’s is engulfed in flames and reduced to ruins. Among the crowds watching its destruction is James Marwood, son of a disgraced printer, and reluctant government informer.
In the aftermath of the fire, a semi-mummified body is discovered in the ashes of St. Paul’s, in a tomb that should have been empty. The man’s body has been mutilated and his thumbs have been tied behind his back.
Under orders from the government, Marwood is tasked with hunting down the killer across the devastated city. But at a time of dangerous internal dissent and the threat of foreign invasion, Marwood finds his investigation leads him into treacherous waters – and across the path of a determined, beautiful and vengeful young woman.
| Review |
A raging inferno. A mysterious young woman. A cold-blooded murder. As the Great Fire consumes all in its path, James Marwood, the son of a former traitor and a government clerk, becomes embroiled in murder and conspiracy as a body is pulled from the ruins of St. Paul’s Cathedral. With the circumstances surrounding the victim’s death going well beyond the inferno, and talk of dark and dangerous conspiracies abound, Marwood must unravel a mystery which comes uncomfortably close to home.
Written with historical and atmospheric detail, The Ashes of London weaves a tale of freedom, murder and rightful vengeance amidst the flames and destruction of The Great Fire of London. Six years have passed since Charles II returned to the thrown and the pursuit of those who sentenced his father still holds the country in a vice of fear and distrust. As tales of murder and violence emerge from the ruins of the city, it becomes ever more apparent that a dark and dangerous conspiracy may be gaining traction in the heart of London itself.
Amidst the crumbling ruins of the old city, a tale of old enemies, bitter betrayals and freedom emerges as the protagonists, James Marwood and Catherine Lovett, vie to survive in the death throes of the old city and escape the sins of their fathers. From the raging inferno and crumbling city, to the ensuing fear and chaos, Andrew Taylor has written a rich and evocative novel which breaths life into the 17th century and conjures an atmosphere of tension, fear and suspicion.
With Utopian visions of Christopher Wren’s London, and the frightening, desolate comparison of a devastated city, the true strength of The Ashes of London is the evocative quality of Taylor’s writing as Restoration England comes to life. The plot steadily winds its way through these stark descriptions, which in no way hinders the tension developed in the ensuing chaos, to portray a city of profound corruption, excessive greed and unexpected optimism.
James Marwood, our first-person point of view character, is a likeable and interesting protagonist who finds himself in a number of hopeless situations as he hunts for a killer across the crumbling ruins of London. Whisked into plots far beyond his control, he must jump to the whims of his masters whilst protecting his ageing and ailing father who, as an ex-prisoner of the crown, often lets slip his treasonous views to the detriment of both himself and his son. As the narrative weaves a complex tale of treachery and murder, James must skilfully navigate both the dangerous streets of London and the upper echelons of society.
In alternating chapters, the story shifts from the first person perspective of James Marwood to the third person perspective of Catherine Lovett, daughter of a puritanical traitor. Cat is a gifted and unusual female (for her day), who whiles away the hours drawing and reinventing London under the watchful of eye of her aunt and uncle. But all is not as it seems in their household as Cat undergoes cruel manipulation and abuse at the hands of her family. Strong, forceful and fiercely independent in a world where she has few friends, Cat is a character whose traumatic life spurs her to live, to survive and to pursue those passions which give her both hope and a reason to live.
Andrew Taylor has written an incredibly vivid tale which relishes in detail, description and atmosphere. As James and Cat’s narratives circle one another in a tense and skilfully plotted tale, their stories converge in a satisfying conclusion which leaves neither king nor pauper untouched. With characters portrayed with as much verve as the city itself, The Ashes of London undoubtedly proves that Taylor’s reputation for both historic and crime fiction is unashamedly deserved.
The Ashes of London is a beautifully detailed and skilfully written novel which had me guessing to the very end. With a narrative paced by its descriptive and atmospheric journey through London, this is a novel to be savoured as the lines between good and evil, right and wrong, and noble and ignoble are hopelessly blurred.