This book drops you straight into the action and never lets up. Feisty young heroine Letty Parker runs her own detective agency in the English west country city of Bristol – but this is an alternative Bristol, newly escaped from the thrall of the Dark Ones, where gargoyles come to life at night, dragons live on the rooftops, and the streets below are menaced by man-eating Barbary Eels.
It is a place full of perils, as Letty and her associates know only too well. Her friend Hepzibah Harrington is dying of a fever, and she begs Letty to go in search of her lost brother Simeon, who vanished when he was packed off to Jamaica as a boy. The only thing Hepzibah has to remember her brother by is a mysterious token given her by a stranger, a gold chain with a seal and gold coin.
Letty enlists her friend and ally, pickpocket Jebediah Hill to help her in her quest, but no sooner has he agreed to help than he is betrayed by one of his own comrades into the clutches of half-human ganglord, the Bear. In return for sparing Jeb’s life, the Bear sends him on a quest to steal the cursed Blue Sapphire he regards as rightfully his, which he believes to be in the possession of the governor of Jamaica.
Soon Letty and her friend Mango find themselves dragged on board the same ship as Jeb, where Letty is forced to impersonate the governor’s privileged daughter Arabella, who happens to also have red hair, while Mango must pretend to be her slave. But a much worse peril awaits when the ship is attacked by pirates, who take Letty and Mango with them as part of their booty.
The narrative cracks along at a terrific pace. Letty herself is full of character and pluck, and both the language the characters speak with its echoes of thieves’ cant and the tone recall the writing of Joan Aiken. The magic is adroitly handled, and the plot and concern for the characters keeps you hooked.
Once the story reaches Jamaica and the scene is set for the confrontation on the Harrington Plantation, the tone darkens considerably. Mr Harrington, father of the lost Simeon and of Hepzibah, has left the plantation in the care of Mr and Mrs Lewin, who have taken to running it for their own benefit, using slave labour. They are an evil, Dickensian couple, and it soon becomes clear that Letty’s life is in peril from both them and their crazed son Richard.
The story works well, the characters are appealing, and there are some vivid and haunting descriptions of Bristol and even more of Jamaica and their shadow/magical aspects. The plight of the enslaved people is captured through the point of view of Mango, who has always been free. There is also something of Leon Garfield about the characters, particularly the more grotesque adults, and their names. Jebediah Hill, Letitia Parker, Hepzibah Harrington, Danny Dinmont, Miss Liddy, the Bear, Ma Parker: the names resound in the memory long after the story has ended.
Thank you to the author and Penkhull Press for this digital advance review copy. As always, my opinion is my own.
About Misha Herwin:
Misha Herwin on Amazon: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Misha-Herwin/e/B0034P2O9I
Misha’s blog: https://mishaherwin.wordpress.com/
Penkhull Press at: https://thepenkhullpress.wordpress.com/