Book Review: Beneath London

Beneath London by James P. Blaylock,  A tale Langdon St. Ives

The collapse of the Victoria Embankment uncovers a passage to an unknown realm beneath the city. Langdon St. Ives sets out to explore it, not knowing that a brilliant and wealthy psychopathic murderer is working to keep the underworld’s secrets hidden for reasons of his own.

St. Ives and his stalwart friends investigate a string of ghastly crimes: the gruesome death of a witch, the kidnapping of a blind, psychic girl, and the grim horrors of a secret hospital where experiments in medical electricity and the development of human, vampiric fungi, serve the strange, murderous ends of perhaps St. Ives’s most dangerous nemesis yet.
  


Two years ago I started my first venture in the Langdon St. Ives stories, starting with The Aylesford Skull and later Homunculus. The former was a new addition to The Narbondo Series and the latter was a reprint. What James P. Blaylock proved to me in the The Aylesford Skull was that he is an author who knows the things he writes about. When you look at a lot of the current Steampunk stories, the stories that James P. Blaylock are different. In a good way!

What better way to kick off the story with focusing on a dark and mysterious setting? In the prologue a mysterious person is revealed in a dark and damp place with terrifying green eyes. When I think back to the old horror movies this is often how they started, this introduction directly set my moods right. After this introduction you learn that there has been an unexplainable collapse on the Victoria Embankment which has "paved" the way to the dark pathways under the city of London. And who is better than to send out to investigate this event? None other than the legendary explorer Langdon St. Ives. But well before that can happen, Langdon has a small agenda of his own and he is asked to first investigate something in the near of his own home n the request of Mother Laswell, well this short stop had set in motion something much bigger as Langdon stumbles upon a corpse. Now all his radars are set to alert. After this Langdon's investigation sends him to London where together with a good friend of his, he investigates said sinkhole, which in turn again reveal much more that even Langdon had dared to hope. Langdon has seen a lot in his years as a scientist and explorer but the discoveries that he makes visiting the sink hole, it scares even him. Added to the fact comes that he has had a lot of face offs with his earlier nemesis Ignacious Narbondo, it seems that he now is to meet a new adversary, one that can even trump Narbondo. Beneath London is another wild race through a beautifully crafted Victorian London. 

As I said above James P. Blaylock's stories aren't for the full 100% in line with the a lot of the current steampunk that is published. James P. Blaylock does something different in telling his stories. The whole setting that is inspired in his stories makes the difference. A given standard to Steampunk is that on one hand there has to be fun and with hidden in the story and on the other hand there is often a dark sense. For me what James P. Blaylock shows is that he eases on the humor side, granted there are still enough moments that will give a smile, witty remarks and such. But he pulls his story more to the dark side. In showing just what nasty things have happened or are happening, you as a reader aren't spared. Sometimes it can be confronting I have to admit and will not make the story suited for everyone. The turn to the darker sides of the story do really bolster in what the story is about, and that is producing one great dark mysterious feeling. 

Another things that once again should be note is the ease with which the story flows, the story telling really comes over in a most natural way. This directly plays into that a lot of the discussion and interaction that the characters have with each other and with world feel natural and none forced. As you follow the footsteps of several character, who all relate and tell events makes none of the information you receive heavy, more on the contrary it makes it easy to absorb and emerge yourself in the story. 

The characters are what truly finish the story. I like Langdon a lot. The story has been compared to Sherlock Holmes, of course he is best known for featuring in a Victorian setting and he is sometimes associated with steampunk, well I wouldn't compare these two together and Langdon has something completely different working for himself. He is by far not so self assured and cocky of himself as Sherlock is. Langdon feels much more human, prone to making and admitting he made an error. He is not a perfect character, he can be wrong with his guesses. This further helps to inspire a mysterious feeling to Beneath London as you know things can change quickly. Next to Langdon there are a lot of secondary characters some of whom I already had the pleasure of getting to know in Teh Aylesford Skull like Langdon's wife Alice, Mother Laswell, Finn, Bill Kraken and lets not forget the manservant Hasbro. All of these are a pleasure to read about. 

I often mention that in such crime stories it's nice to see just what the bad guys are planning and Beneath London is no exception. You see on screen just what the bad guys are up to and how every party involved reacts on each other actions. Even though you read what happens it still gives a very dynamic feeling to the story. 

It might have taken a few years but the latest addition to the Tales of Langdon St. Ives is a noteworthy addition to the series. James P. Blaylock has a unique gift in telling his stories. What I like most about his book are the  atmosphere he is able to raise, it has the required humor but the premise to the whole of the story is much more darker and more towards a macabre setting. Added to this comes the fact that the characterization is spot on. Even though Langdon is a smart guy he doesn't know it all and doesn't mind giving in when he is wrong and finding a better solution. Something that caught me by surprise was the last sentence of the book, really elegant. Lets hope it will be re-lit for another adventure!

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