A captivating story of mystery, magic and skulduggery
Letty Parker is growing up. Her first loves are still her friends: her loyal gang, Hepzibah, Mango and Jeb (Jebediah Hughes); her detective agency; and the city of Bristol itself, vibrant, grimy and fizzing with magic. But Letty is also torn between her feelings for two young men: loyal Jeb himself and the mysterious Gabriel, the half-human son of the Count Nicholas – one of the Dark Ones, the Nephilim, who now rules the city as its mayor.
Letty and her associates have a new mystery to investigate. The Night Creatures that inhabit the rooftops of the city – dragons and gargoyles – are under attack from a mysterious disease. The gargoyles are eroding away and the dragons are corroding: one by one they are dying, and their fate reveals a more insidious attack on the city itself.
Meanwhile, Letty and her friend Hepzibah meet new neighbours at the latter’s home 3 Belvedere Terrace, where she lives with her formidable Aunt Beulah: young scientist Copernica Clifford, who seems remote and unfriendly, and her little brother Newton with his beloved dog Scrap.
The children face eviction since their father, Cawston Clifford, a scientist, has disappeared leaving them no way to pay the rent. Aunt Beulah offers them sanctuary from the bailiffs, but when Copernica returns to her lab to collect her father’s notebook, she is attacked by two thugs who seem to be after the same thing. Who are they and who sent them? Has Clifford been kidnapped and held prisoner against his will?
Letty and her friends set out to find the missing scientist, and to investigate what is harming the gargoyles and dragons. And little by little a complex plot unravels, one that links the Dark Ones to the people of Bristol, and a new invention that seems to threaten the city and everyone who lives there, as well as its magical inhabitants.
I enjoyed A Gathering of Gargoyles very much. There are places where the narrative takes flight; I loved the scenes where Letty and friends encounter the witches, or when she visits the roof of St Nicholas Church to meet with the gargoyles. There’s a nail-biting climax at the Bristol Observatory and Camera Obscura. The evocation of a historic, magical Bristol is one of the best things, especially if you know the city.
I really warmed to the characters, from Jebediah Hughes, who has retired from thieving after a brush with death, to Mango, who has left the gang of street children to which he belonged, both now working for Letty’s detective agency. There is Hepzibah, throwing herself into the investigation despite protective Aunt Beulah, and Letty herself, smart, kind-hearted and resourceful. Newcomers Copernica and Newton are thoughtfully drawn, and even minor characters have a real three-dimensionality (and names to match).
The adults are much more flawed and unreliable. There is a real darkness in the story that recalls the novels of Leon Garfield: grown-ups are not heroic, and difficult choices have to be made. Herwin’s vivid evocation of the city and its population, along with the dialogue and a cast of memorable characters – gang leader the Bear’s daughter Emmalina, half-human and half-bear; the mysterious Humunculus Ridden, who may or may not be an ally; and the sinister Mr Tranter in his stovepipe hat – remind me of Joan Aiken once again.
The story will be enjoyed by young adults (12+) and adults alike.