(I got an ARC courtesy of NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.)
When it comes to knowing whether you liked a book or not, some are really hard to place. This novel is one of those.
I really liked its atmosphere: London in 1665, the way its streets and buildings were depicted, how travelling from one place to another was so much different from what we know today, the many people we get to see, all both divided and united in a common fear. The plague is raging, and everyone wants out... or tries to do with what they have, including remedies and protective measures that we would definitely find stupid today, but that must have made sense at some point. The illness is sometimes depicted in really gruesome ways, and it helps enforcing the constant fear, the terror as soon as someone realises his spouse or her friend is developing "plague tokens". The description of the plague doctor was also very vivd, instilling dread as soon as he appeared.
The interactions between Charlie and Anna-Maria were quite funny at times—he the boy left in an orphanage and proficient in the ways of the street, she a young woman with the manners and expectations of someone born in a good, though impoverished family. At first, I had my fears that
she would be a dead weight, but fortunately she proved she had resources of her own when it came to improvising and remaining strong throughout their journey to find who killed her sister.
However, I thought the plot on too many convenient occurrences (that happened by chance, and not because Charlie or Maria already had the relationships or resources needed). For instance, a character who discovered one of the victims' corpses later appears to work for another character that Charlie happens to know, and is also a relation of yet another character that Charlie also happens to know. All right, a lot of people had either fled or died from the plague, but surely the world can't be such a small place all the time? I would have accepted those coincidences easily if they had been of Charlie's making, but here they were too much on the deus ex machina side.
I also found the last chapters to be a muddle of sorts. Some things happened, yet when I thought about them, I realised that I didn't see them actually happen in a chapter, and that there logically wouldn't have had time for them to happen; the narrative should have shown them to the reader, at least. Revelations about the real identity of the murderer left me wondering if I had completely missed something, or if it was just confusing. Same with how everyone was related within the plot. I felt as if everything was dumped on me all at once, too abruptly, and in a way
that didn't always make sense.
Finally, I wished a few more elements had been explained. What of Charlie's brother? What secrets did the papers hold? Was there actually some intriguing at the Court, considering how many hints were dropped that the King knew something, or that some of the people close to him were involved in some conspiracy? (Unless this book is the beginning of a series, in which case such information may be revealed in the next installment, but I'm not so sure about that.)
Conclusion: I really liked the depiction of plague-ravaged London in the 17th century, but the plot didn't cut it so much for me in the end.