The Aylesford Skull by James P Blaylock

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The Aylesford Skull by James P Blaylock

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Category: Crime (Historical)
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Louise Jones
Reviewed by Louise Jones
Summary: In the summer of 1883, scientist and adventurer Landgon St. Ives is once more pitted against his nemesis, Dr. Ignacio Narbondo, in a race against time to save his young son.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 428 Date: January 2013
Publisher: Titan Books
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-0857689795

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Langdon St. Ives, renowned scientist and adventurer, returns home from the hubbub and grime of Victorian London to his tranquil residence in rural Aylesford where he lives with his wife Alice and their two young children. Weary of the city, having survived a devastating explosion and particularly vicious attempt on his life, he is hoping for some repose and a chance to work quietly on his latest project; a dirigible airship.

Unfortunately, fate has other plans for St Ives. The return of his nemesis, the infamous Dr. Ignacio Narbondo heralds a chain of events that culminates in his returning to London in search of his young son Eddie, who has been kidnapped by Narbondo. However, St. Ives is not the only Aylesford resident headed for London to track down this cold-hearted villain. An assortment of individuals, each wishing to see Narbondo dead, head separately to the city in the hope of retrieving the boy. Narbondo wants a fresh child’s skull for his latest nefarious project and Eddie, the son of his greatest enemy, seems the perfect victim. Will Eddie be found in time?

Blaylock’s re-imagined Steampunk Victorian London is a richly immersive world that seamlessly merges history with fantasy. The author casually inserts historical references into the narrative, such as Queen Victoria’s ongoing disputes with Prime Minister Gladstone, but also pours a large dram of fantasy and magic into the mix for good measure. The result is a pure delight, and a complete literary indulgence. Blaylock’s descriptive prose is both eloquent and colourful.

The characters are well rounded and appealing. In fact, I found some of the secondary characters more interesting than the main protagonist. One of my favourites was Finn Conrad, a heroic and streetwise teenager who has his own score to settle with Narbondo. With character names such as Tubby Frobisher, Crumpet and Old Bill Kraken, it is easy to see why many critics have likened Blaylock’s writing style to P G Wodehouse.

The pace of the story is fast and exhilarating, with plenty of action and unexpected surprises. Blaylock has a wonderful way of leaving a cliff-hanger at the end of each short chapter, bidding the reader to go on and read a little further. This may explain how I ended up reading the whole 428 pages in two days! I simply had to read what happened next. The frantic pursuit of the villain and his young victim through the murky, gas lit streets of London was sheer pleasure to read and the various twists and turns in the plot ensured that there was never a dull moment.

My only criticism of The Aylesford Skull was the final denouement, when all of the plot lines eventually came together to form the final picture. Unfortunately, the coming together of so many separate plot elements seemed contrived, overly complex and poorly thought through. At times the narrative seemed to fall apart amid the confusion. It was as if the author had become so absorbed in his own story, he had ceased to care whether the reader was still following along.

Despite the slightly disappointing ending, I found The Aylesford skull a thoroughly enjoyable and absorbing read. I understand that this book is part of a series, although it reads perfectly well as a standalone novel. I will be actively seeking out the prequels, as I am keen to read more about the wonderful adventures of the inimitable Langdon St. Ives.

Fans of Steampunk fiction may enjoy The Mystifying Medicine Show by J C Bemis or Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld

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Buy The Aylesford Skull by James P Blaylock at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Aylesford Skull by James P Blaylock at


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