Chatelaine of the Guild (Queen Victoria’s Magicians book 1) by James Odell (ebook review)

January 19, 2017 | By | Reply More

It’s 1848 and revolution is in the air all across Europe. Even the sensible British are somewhat imbued with the spirit of change and the Chartist movement is demanding votes for the common people. There are some among them prepared to resort to violence, arson and even assassination. Others would incite the volatile London mob to riot. Charley ‘Coffee’ Williams is a descendant of slaves who grew up in London and, as a skilled mechanic, takes care of Babbage’s Calculating Machine. It’s a job he loves. He’s a moderate member of the Chartists and quite an influential one.

In the midst of all this, Samantha Hampden, our heroine, is plucked from school and asked to become Chatelaine of the Guild, the Guild of Magicians, that is. The role is hereditary and passed from Samantha’s mother to her aunt but they are now both dead, possibly murdered. The Chatelaine is in charge of the Guild’s accounts and has the power to decide which department gets funding, so it’s an important role. This being the Victorian age, some people resent a young lady having so much power. Luckily, Samantha has support from her cousin Edward Radley, Earl of Culham, a rather dashing older man who is patron of the Guild.

The novel switches to his point of view a couple of times and also to that of Chartist ’Coffee’ Williams. In general, however, we see things through Samantha’s eyes as she is taken to Osborne House on the Isle of Wight to be presented to Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, presented to the other top Guild members and assigned her duties. She also gets some assistants and a couple of guards along the way.

The Guild of Magicians is a pillar of the establishment and sometimes called upon to help the police keep order. Amongst them, they have many skills. Talkers can telepathically transmit messages to each other, instant communication that would otherwise be impossible. There are Talkers at embassies and naval bases all over the British Empire. A Talker in Paris keeps the Guild up-to-date when trouble breaks out there. Some Guild members can raise a sort of shield to stop bullets and some can cause fires. In many ways, they bought to mind the Imagers of L.E. Modesitt, Jr.

In many ways, the whole book reminded me of Modesitt’s works. Not in any plagiaristic way, I hasten to add, but there are similarities of theme and pattern. Our heroine is a decent sort thrust into a difficult role who tries to do her best and to get along even with colleagues who aren’t especially nice. The story is about how a society works with conflicting interest groups and the challenge is for sane and reasonable people to hold it together, while recognising that it is by no means perfect and needs to change. Like Modesitt’s books, it’s very political. Even the construction is similar for the narrative follows Samantha’s life almost day by day as she learns her role and earns respect. I hasten to add that I enjoy Modesitt’s fantasy novels so the comparison is a flattering one.

Turning to the back pages, one discovers that author James Odell has a degree in the History of Science from the Open University and makes frequent trips to the City of London to research his novels. As far as I can tell, his knowledge of the Victorian era is sound and the book includes cameo roles for the Queen, Lord Palmerston, the Duke of Wellington and the Factory Acts, which bought back memories of long, miserable school days studying the damn things.

If a critic does anything useful (debatable), it’s separating the wheat from the chaff. Of course, one man’s wheat is another man’s chaff. I recall Germaine Greer and other intellectuals grinding their teeth on Radio 4 when ‘Lord Of The Rings’ was voted best book of the 20th century. With the advent of self-publishing, any would be writer can put a book out and there’s a lot of chaff published. I’m happy to report that ‘Chatelaine Of The Guild’ is definitely wheat. It’s a well plotted, readable yarn with rounded characters underpinned by a solid knowledge of history and politics. Worth a look.

Eamonn Murphy

January 2017

(pub: Amazon kindle. 208 page 911kb ebook. ASIN: B00KO779Z8)

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Category: Books, Fantasy

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About EamonnMurphy

Eamonn Murphy is a science fiction, fantasy, horror and graphic novel reviewer who writes a bit too. Many of his books are currently free (but not on Amazon).
See website for details.

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