I am absolutely thrilled to be taking part today in the blog tour for a book I have been looking forward to reading so much, The Drowned City by K. J. Maitland. My thanks to Anne Cater for inviting me to take part in the tour and to the publisher for my digital copy of the book which I have reviewed honestly and impartially.
Gunpowder and treason changed England forever. But the tides are turning and revenge runs deep…
1606. A year to the day that men were executed for conspiring to blow up Parliament, a towering wave devastates the Bristol Channel. Some proclaim God’s vengeance. Others seek to take advantage.
In London, Daniel Pursglove lies in prison waiting to die. But Charles FitzAlan, close adviser to King James I, has a job in mind that will free a man of Daniel’s skill from the horrors of Newgate. If he succeeds.
For Bristol is a hotbed of Catholic spies, and where better for the lone conspirator who evaded arrest, one Spero Pettingar, to gather allies than in the chaos of a drowned city? Daniel journeys there to investigate FitzAlan’s lead, but soon finds himself at the heart of a dark Jesuit conspiracy – and in pursuit of a killer.
I’ve just spent 24 hours of my life immersed in life in the flood-ravaged Bristol of 1606, caught up in the intrigues of the post-Gunpowder Plot Jacobean court and cutting through a web of spies, lies, superstition and religious rivalry to try and solve a murder mystery and I didn’t really want to come back to reality.
The Drowned City is a fantastic mix of historical novel and murder mystery set against the backdrop of a startling but little known event of Jacobean times – the flooding of Bristol by a freak tsunami or storm surge – that was believed by many to be a sign from God at a time when there was still friction between the Catholic church and the Protestant faith in the fairly-new reign of James I. This is not a period of history that I am very familiar with, being more of a Wars of the Roses obsessive, but I was completely gripped by this fascinating blend of fact and fiction to the extent that I had to keep breaking off to find out which bits of the book were based on actual events and characters and which bits the author had invented; the story-telling is completely seamless.
This is the story of Daniel Pursglove, a proponent of sleight of hand tricks, who has found himself in Newgate Prison awaiting trial on suspicion of witchcraft during the reign of a paranoid and superstitious monarch. He is given the chance of earning a pardon by a man claiming to be a close advisor of the King; all he has to do is go to a flood-blighted Bristol to investigate rumours that a priest who had a hand in the Gunpowder Plot is in hiding there, planning sedition. Faced with the prospect of losing his hands, if not his life, Daniel agrees and sets off, but finds himself investigating a string of murders in a city that is beset by suspicion against outsiders and religious superstition, making it a dangerous place for him and his mission.
To say that the author brings the setting of the book to life would be a massive understatement. I can’t remember the last time that I read a book which presents such a vivid portrayal of a different time and a different life. I felt like Harry Potter when his nose touches the surface of the Pensieve and he is pulled in to Dumbledore’s memory. I literally *fell* right in to the heart of Bristol, surrounded by the clamour and the squalor of the blighted metropolis. The author’s writing is vivid and textured and absolutely perfect. The descriptions she uses to evoke the pictures just filled my heart with delight (‘shave the beard from a herring’ was a particular favourite), I could mentally roll around in her language and revel in the feel of it for hours. To take such delight in not just a story but the very way in which it is told is a rare and particular joy to me.
The murder mystery itself is fiendish and full of suspense and tension; enough by itself to carry the story if the book offered nothing else to the reader and it will appeal to lovers of that genre as well as fans of the historical novel. But the setting of the mystery against the historical backdrop adds another layer of interest to anyone who enjoys that genre, and if you are a fan of both as I am, you will be in hogs’ heaven with this novel. It gave me the same joy as I felt when I first discovered the Cadfael novels by Ellis Peters which has a similar style of murder mystery peppered with actual historical fact.
On every level, The Drowned City worked perfectly for me. The writing, the story, the characterisation were all faultless, and I enjoyed this book as much as any I have read in a long time. This is one of the best books I have read so far this year, and I confident it will feature in my top ten books of 2021. Definitely one for the ‘forever’ shelf and I have bought myself a copy in hardback (which has the most beautiful cover too!). I can’t wait for the next in the series, and have no hesitation in recommending this book to anyone and everyone. Reading bliss, I want to do it all over again.
The Drowned City is out now in hardback, ebook and audiobook formats and will be published in paperback in November. You can buy a copy here.
Make sure you go back and visit some of the other blogs taking part in the tour for alternative reviews and other content:
About the Author
Karen Maitland is an historical novelist, lecturer and teacher of Creative Writing, with over twenty books to her name. She grew up in Malta, which inspired her passion for history, and travelled and worked all over the world before settling in the United Kingdom. She has a doctorate in psycholinguistics, and now lives on the edge of Dartmoor in Devon.
Connect with Karen:
Facebook: Karen Maitland