(I was given a copy through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.)
Magic, werewolves, Victorian London, crazy inventions, and alchemy: what could go wrong, right?
Well, I did like this novel, but not as much as I had hoped and wished. Perhaps because I remembered liking these authors' Greyfriar book a lot, and was expecting something similar? I'm not sure. It has a nice mix of adventure, banter, fights and magic, but somehow I found it a bit lacking. Not bad per se, just lacking.
I really liked the descriptions and the London depicted in this first installment. I could easily imagine its streets, its rookeries, the characters as they were introduced, Penny's inventions, and the various supernaturals (I'll add the homunculi to this category, not only the werewolves). The Bedlam part was creepy and terrific. The atmosphere reflected what I'd imagine as an early gaslight/steampunk urban fantasy backdrop, and while some of the contraptions were maybe a tad bit too modern, I didn't really care, because they integrated well enough within the overall picture.
The characters had a nice dynamics going, too. They were somewhat cliché (the dashing gentleman magician, his friend who seems to spend his time in less commendable places, the Scottish werewolves hunter, the inventor, the feisty alchemist), but again, for some reason, I thought they worked well together. I will easily forgive tropes if I manage to find them exciting, and in this case, they fit the theme and what I expected of it.
I found the writing style a bit too rough in general, though, in that the action scenes especially seemed like they could've benefitted from more editing, in order to be less confusing. Same with the first chapters: the reader's quickly thrown into it, which is usually good, yet something felt abrupt and slightly jarring. It got better in some parts, and not in others. There were a lot of such scenes, perhaps too many, and they got repetitive after a while. The werewolves were also a bit too squishy depending on the moments: the first one looked so impressive and hard to kill, while others could be shredded like paper. At some point, the weres got described as not being all the same, with a lot of them being 'runts' of sorts, that couldn't very well control their powers; in this case, it would make sense... only the way it was explained wasn't too clear.
Second, I wondered why the authors hadn't made up more concepts and words. Sure, too much techno- (or mystico-) babble can get old pretty fast; however, whenever I read something like "he muttered strange words (to create a spell)", I couldn't help but ask myself: "What words are those, andwhy would they be strange to him, since he's a magician?" In such instances, I'd definitely have appreciated some made-up "babble".
Third, a lot of threads were left dangling. This is both a good and a bad thing. The book is clearly presented as volume 1 in a trilogy, no secrets here, so everything can't be solved at once, and these threads are obviously openings into books 2 and 3. On the other hand, they'd better not be forgotten then, otherwise they'll look like sloppy work.
I'd rate this book 2.5 stars: lots of fun, with the clear aim of being entertaining, and definitely good potential in terms of character dynamics and family stories, but only if it gets realised and not bogged down in confusing scenes. Reading the next volume, which I also have, will likely tell if what I'm hoping for will become true.