The Secrets of Life and Death by Rebecca Alexander

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The Secrets of Life and Death by Rebecca Alexander

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Category: Fantasy
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Ani Johnson
Reviewed by Ani Johnson
Summary: A split timeframe urban fantasy thriller linking present day with Elizabethan alchemist John Dee. Action-packed and making us thing about the joys of being brought back from the dead.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 448 Date: March 2014
Publisher: Del Rey
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-0091953249

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A girl covered in magic sigils dies in London watched by Jackdaw (Jack) Hammond. Jack had tried to cure her but the girl escaped. Now Jack has another chance to provide the treatment linking them with Elizabethan alchemist/mathematician/royal advisor John Dee. Indeed some would even call Dee a sorcerer. Jack could achieve so much if she does it better the next time but the fight won't be easy. She's not the only one who wants her new subject, although she may be the only one who knows how to save her.

English author Rebecca Alexander is so dedicated to the fantasy genre that she did an MSc in magical thinking. It's stood her in good stead as this rip roaring adventure drips suspense from the very first page.

Dee has definitely become a popular ingredient to add to a fantasy novel recipe as we've seen in such offerings as Phil Rickman's Dr Dee books. In the case of The Secrets… Dee's involvement is necessitated by the author's curiosity about the Hungarian aristocrat and infamous murderer Elizabeth Bathory. Rebecca's imagination fills in the fact gaps and we readers are the beneficiaries.

Rebecca portrays Dr Dee as a sorcerer-ish Sherlock Holmes to Kelley's studious Watson. As they become more deeply embroiled in the dark secrets of the Hungarian aristocracy Dee's calm scientific curiosity becomes the perfect foil for Kelley's constant demeanour of surprise and, sometimes, shock. (Not something I'd blame him for!)

The chapters alternate between fictional Jack's modern London and historical Dee and Kelley's travels, working well on more than one level. Not only does it offer a dual aspect, it increases the tease factor that Rebecca has cunningly engineered plus, of course, a double climax as the stories both crescendo towards equally exciting revelations.

Back in the present, if you're wondering where a lass picks up a name like Jackdaw, read the novel and wonder no more – it's all in there in a fantasy world that's well constructed and seamlessly meshes with the planet as we know it.

There are one or two inconsistencies; however I didn't notice them till I'd finished the novel. The delay in my realisation could be because the action is so all-enveloping (and begging to be made into a movie) that I was totally engrossed. Powers of good, evil and the local constabulary all get a look in and, because we don't know if it's a series or a one-off, each life on the modern side hangs in the balance.

For anyone wanting to pigeonhole Rebecca on the urban fantasy spectrum, she strikes me as being reminiscent of the masterly Stephen Lloyd Jones and as such, I shall definitely be keeping an eye out for anything else she cares to offer us.

Thank you, Del Rey for providing us with a copy for review.

Further Reading: If you enjoyed this and yearn for more split-time fear-inducing fantasy, then hasten away to The String Diaries by Stephen Lloyd Jones.

Buy The Secrets of Life and Death by Rebecca Alexander at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Secrets of Life and Death by Rebecca Alexander at Amazon.co.uk


Buy The Secrets of Life and Death by Rebecca Alexander at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Secrets of Life and Death by Rebecca Alexander at Amazon.com.

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