Review: The Ashes of London by Andrew Taylor

The Ashes of London by Andrew Taylor

Timy reviews The Ashes of London, the first book in the Marwood and Lovett historical fiction series by Andrew Taylor.

About the Book
Series:Marwood and Lovett #1
Genre:Historical Fiction, Mystery
Publisher:HarperCollins
Date of Publishing:April 7th, 2016
Trigger Warnings:Death, violence, off the screen rape, blood
Page count:400
Possible The Sound of Madness Reading Challenge prompts:
  • Free Your Mind
  • Justice
  • I’m Still Here
  • Middle Fingers
  • Family Portrait
  • Vészhelyzet (Emergency)
  • Centuries
Book Blurb
The Ashes of London by Andrew Taylor

From the No.1 best-selling author of The American Boy and The Silent Boy comes a brand new historical thriller set during the time of the Great Fire of London. The first of an exciting new series of novels.

London, September 1666. The Great Fire rages through the city, consuming everything in its path. Even the impregnable cathedral of St. Paul’s is engulfed in flames and reduced to ruins. Among the crowds watching its destruction is James Marwood, son of a disgraced printer, and reluctant government informer.

In the aftermath of the fire, a semi-mummified body is discovered in the ashes of St. Paul’s, in a tomb that should have been empty. The man’s body has been mutilated and his thumbs have been tied behind his back.

Under orders from the government, Marwood is tasked with hunting down the killer across the devastated city. But at a time of dangerous internal dissent and the threat of foreign invasion, Marwood finds his investigation leads him into treacherous waters – and across the path of a determined, beautiful and vengeful young woman.

Review

I never heard about The Ashes of London (or its author, Andrew Taylor) before, but when it popped up on an Audible sale, it seemed intriguing enough. Plus, I’m a sucker for murder mysteries in a historical setting, especially if that happens to be in London (or anywhere in England, really). None of them ever came close to the masterpiece that is the Shardlake series, though. But that’s fine, I like to try new authors in the genre, especially as I like to mix these with my very fantasy-heavy reading. That being said, I didn’t have much expectations for The Ashes of London, which is probably a good thing, as I wasn’t all that impressed with it all being said.

Events are set in London during and after the great fires in 1666. The devastation caused by it provides a gruesome backdrop to our story. Lives, buildings, and livelihoods are lost, and if that wasn’t enough, a murderer walks the streets of London with the haunting ghost of a regicide. James Marwood works as a clerk, providing for his ill father and keeping his head down. His father still holds to his old beliefs about the Fifth Kingdom which led to the aforementioned regicide, and with his wits failing, he can never know when they find themselves in trouble. Not that trouble doesn’t find James all by itself, but his father’s past certainly makes him interesting for people higher in the society ladder, and so he finds himself not only investigating two murders, but also the disappearance of the niece of a wealthy (and well-connected) merchant. Said niece is the second POV character, so we got to know her story in detail too. With her father on the run and her mom dead, she was handed from one relative to the next. The Alderleys even have their own plans with her, and Cat fights tooth and nail to have her own choices.

The Ashes of London is not a particularly long book, and yet, it took me two weeks to get through it on audiobook. I usually get done with them faster. While I found the story interesting, I was never fully invested in the characters (although I definitely liked Cat more) or the plot. It becomes obvious quite early on who might be the culprit, and the few questions that remain for James Marwood to figure out, are pretty much answered for the reader through Cat’s POV. It’s entertaining to watch James find those answers up to a point, but when there is hardly any mystery left for the reader to puzzle out, it just loses interest. And the few remaining mysteries aren’t much of a mystery either. All in all, this aspect of the book left me pretty underwhelmed.

Being the first book of a series, Taylor spends a lot of time setting the characters up. I daresay it gets more focus than the mystery itself. I’m just not sure they are interesting enough to engage the reader. Although, seeing that the 6th book was released this year and that each book has a good number of ratings and reviews, it certainly has its audience. Makes me wonder if a different medium would have made me like it more. That’s not to say The Ashes of London is a bad book – far from it. I realise my review was slightly more negative than it should have been. It sure has a lot going for it – the setting, for example, and a female character who actually has her own agency and doesn’t sit around waiting for someone to save her, who goes after her dreams and is not afraid to fight for herself. Societal conventions be damned.

The Ashes of London gets a closure, the plotlines are tied up nicely, so even if one decides not to continue with the series, probably won’t feel like there is something missing. I might not have been impressed with it overall, but I still might be a good pick if you are looking to read some historical fiction for a change.

Our Judgement
They Shall Live - 3 Crowns

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