I finished reading Savage Magic over a week ago and still haven't written the review, because I'm still turning over the story in my mind, trying to decide quite what I made of it. This is a good representation of the novel itself - it's a tale that needs to be savoured, pondered over and looked at from every angle to discover quite what you're dealing with.
The front cover of the book promises "Unsolvable murders. Inexplicable events. Madness. Magic. Maleficium." The (different) cover of my advanced reading copy promises "a concoction of witches, madness and murder". Unlike most novels, where the omniscient narrator - and therefore the reader- has all encompassing knowledge, Savage Magic throws you in at the deep end, leaving you to make up your own mind and work things out along with the protagonists. As it takes them a while to make head or tail of the strange events surrounding Thorpe Lee House, you're left in the dark, not knowing if it's supposed to be a fantastical supernatural tale of witches, a perplexing meander through the fanciful hallucinations of the madhouse residents or a more grounded and straightforward case of malice and criminal design.
Whatever the whys and wherefores, a series of brutal murders are carried out, targetting a group of aristocratic young men, all embroiled in a depraved secret society. All of the murders take place behind locked doors with no sign of forced entry and despite a policeman standing guard outside the door. The investigation leads to the sordid streets around Covent Garden where prostitutes ply their trade, offering a fascinating glimpse into early 19th century London and the plight of women at the time. Meanwhile, Constable Charles Horton is despatched to investigate the strange incidents happening at Thorpe Lee House, where the cook has been accused of witchcraft and the whole village is baying for her blood. .
Horton's own wife, Abigail, is seeking refuge from her disordered mind in an asylum, where she often seems to be the most mentally and morally sound person, doctors included ! Are the inmates entrapped in their own deluded minds or is there really foul play going on?
The novel gives an intriguing overview of the different classes of people in England in the early 1800's - aristocrats, witches, gypsies, prostitutes, doctors, servants - as well as the melting pot of ideas, blending "old" folklore and "new" science, throwing up a maelstrom of conflicting viewpoints and feelings. It's a cleverly woven Whodunnit plot, taking the reader into a fog of confusion and incomprehension, before finally taking him by the hand and leading him out the other side where clues start to fit into place and the whole sordid story can be understood in all its glory (and gore !).
star rating : 4/5
RRP : 12.99
Disclosure : I received a review copy of the book.
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