So after the massive ‘Empire Falls’ that felt like the epic it was I was in the mood for something much more me and I have been waiting to read this Richard & Judy read for ages. I mean for a start its filled with things that I am fascinated in; the 1800’s, anatomy, grave diggers, gothic darkness. Why then would I have had this book last year (when I worked next door to TLS) and have swapped it? I think, despite the last cover being much more gothic, the blurb is better on this one and actually says what its about without being so cryptic, and of course being a R&J book its been much hyped and its story more profound.
We are in 1826 and after the lessening of hangings (this isn’t explained I just know this) bodies of the dead are much harder to come by, gone are the days where you had endless amounts at your disposal, now has come a time of grave robbing. Gabriel Swift has come to London to be the apprentice of the well renowned anatomist Edwin Poll. He finds himself enemy of another member of the household and drawn to Polls nemesis Lucan one of the most famous of the resurrectionist’s. Swift is forced into a darker world when dismissed by Poll and at Lucan’s side takes a journey that will change him forever.
Sounds great doesn’t it? Well after page 150 to about 250 it is brilliant. The start of the book however is decidedly slow, there is a gruesome opening chapter looking at the aspects of anatomy and dead bodies but our protagonist doesn’t actually feature properly in the book until chapter three. What’s more two things are never explained with Swift. The first is how he ends up in London and with Poll exactly, yes his father dies (the blurb says his father had tragic failures, you don’t ever know what these are) and he gains a new guardian but somehow it didn’t make sense. Secondly why is Swifts decent into the darker more living hell (yes I know it makes a great story) so sudden and actually why does it happen? Yes he makes one enemy, but why does he not have the balls to let him take the rap and why do his friends not stick up for him?
His friends however are sort of colleagues, and there are so many of them with such similar names I completely got thrown and couldn’t remember who was who or how they knew him. There was no background to the story and that made me wonder if there was in the authors mind. There’s a particularly contrived love story between swift and an ‘actress’ who stereotypically also ends up being a ‘woman of the night’, I found myself thinking ‘if she can get money for sleeping with many men why is she bedding this cretin for free?’ That was the books biggest problem I didn’t like Swift, he had no real character, no real reason for being evil, and not in a sick ‘I love being evil just for being evil’ way. He was one dimensional. You could say that a grave robber can’t be a nice character, it was money, I am sure they had reasons.
With an ending in colonial Australia (I am not saying why) I think James Bradley had two books he wanted to write. One was the tale of gothic dark London, grave diggers and horror (this was gruesome but not scary) the other was society in Australia based on criminals or people with ‘history’ these should have been two separate stories and not forced into one that had no backdrop or back bone. I never felt I was in London with the characters, which was a huge problem that would have been brilliant. If this book was snatched and anatomised you sadly wouldn’t find a heart.