The Aylesford Skull
Author: James P. Blaylock
Publisher: Titan Books (Jan. 15, 2013)
Paperback: 400 pages
The author of The Aylesford Skull, James P. Blaylock, has a gift for transporting the reader to an age of gas lamps, steam, infernal engines and ingenious machines. His writing style is superb and he never strikes a false note.
From first chapter filled with pirates out of Egypt Bay scuttling a ship on the Thames, through wild chases amid the seamy crime filled backstreets of London, the action moves at a breakneck speed. Anarchists, intrigue, forgery, murder and necromancy all play a part of the story. Interwoven with the exploits is a look at both the society of the day and the characters that populate that world.
The Aylesford Skull marks the return of Langdon St. Ives and his cohorts to a book series which has been around since the mid 1980s. Fortunately this novel stands up on its own so although I had not read the earlier books I was able to dive right into the story.
The setting is 19th century Great Britain. This was an age where society was highly class-conscious despite a growing tide of rising expectations. For educated men like St. Ives and Sherlock Holmes it was an era when Science and Rational Thought were weapons to beat back the darkness of superstition and the supernatural. As a scientist and gentleman explorer St. Ives is a valued member of The Royal Society and his days of rushing pell-mell into danger should have been firmly in his past. Unfortunately there are times when even with our best intentions to steer clear of trouble, will find its way to our doorstep. In this case Langdon St. Ives while pursuing a thief uncovered a nefarious web of evil only to find his arch-nemesis Ignacio Narbondo at the hub. The cost of the discovery is Narbondo’s retaliation in kidnapping St. Ives’s 4 year old son.
One of the pleasures of reading this story is that while St. Ives is indeed the man of the hour, success or failure does not ride solely on his shoulders. Throughout the story St. Ives has his manservant Hasbro at his side, as well as friends and associates like Tubby Frobisher and Jack Owlesby to back him up. There are some pretty strong women that also play a part and I found myself cheering them on. Yes, evil can and often should be faced down with as many hands as is practical and there is no reason not to have a nourishing meal along the way. If I ever were to find myself forced to run down a maniacal evil villain and his minions, I expect I would try to get every advantage I could manage.
If you are not a fan of steampunk I suggest you forget the phrase and simply enjoy this wonderfully written novel.
Review by June K. Williams