The Aylesford Skull (A Langdon St. Ives novel) by James P. Blaylock (book review).

Langdon St. Ives has moved with his family to the tranquil village of Aylesford hoping to leave his past and enemies behind him. Yet almost as soon as the family arrives, mysterious strangers are seen by the river and St. Ives learns that Aylesford is the birthplace of his nemesis, Dr. Ignacio Narbondo. When Narbondo plunders the grave of his brother, an unthinkable evil is in danger of being released on the population. Langdon St. Ives is drawn into the action when his son, Eddie, is kidnapped by Narbondo and the boy’s life is in grave danger. With the help of friends, old and new, St. Ives must save his son and prevent Narbondo from using the Aylesford Skull before time runs out.


After reading ‘The Aylesford Skull’ by James P. Blaylock, the phrase that springs to mind to describe it is that it is a rollicking good yarn. It’s a steampunk adventure filled with plenty of swash and buckle, fast-paced action and dastardly deeds. Set in Victorian England with a touch of the supernatural, this book will transport you to a different world. Although the historical aspects are understated, the sense of time and place is really clear, perhaps because of the nature of the characters.

Langdon St. Ives and his chums are moderately well-to-do gentlemen, including a certain Charles Doyle (father of Sir Arthur), who seem to have plenty of time on their hands and a desire to engage in thrilling escapades wherever possible. St. Ives is a wonderful character, with his sense of adventure and curiosity tempered by his obvious affection for his wife and children. Some of his friends seem to be a little on the stereotypical side and lacked a bit of depth – there’s one chapter in particular with just the friends that feels out of place with the rest of the story – but, in general, that doesn’t affect the story. They’re all clearly old-fashioned men with a strong sense of honour and duty and form a band of gentlemen adventurers that fit the Victorian setting well.

Dr. Ignacio Narbondo is deliciously evil, but I think I’d have liked to see more of him. He is almost a secondary character for much of the book and some of his companions/minions seemed to be more involved in the action. I realise that this is not the first book to feature Narbondo and St. Ives and perhaps if you’ve read earlier books there isn’t such a need to develop Narbondo’s character but as a newcomer to the series I would have liked a bit more.

‘The Aylesford Skull’ is a fast-paced novel from beginning to end, with events rapidly flowing from one frightful situation to the next. This works well and I found myself reading much more than I intended to each time I picked the book up, trying to reach a lull in the action at which to stop. The problem is that there aren’t really any let-ups in pace and I think that it might have benefitted from a few sections where everyone wasn’t in constant peril. I happily read this through to the end but I suspect that had it been a hundred pages shorter, I’d have been equally satisfied. There are a number of points at which it feels like a conclusion is about to be reached, only for the plot to dive off in another direction after an unlikely series of events. It was fun and I enjoyed reading it all, but I think it might have been even better with a little further editing.

I haven’t read any of the earlier Langdon St. Ives novels by James P. Blaylock, but after reading this one, I think I’ll be seeking them out. ‘The Aylesford Skull’ is a really enjoyable read, with plenty of action and a good sense of humour. It is a solid steampunk adventure that will keep you entertained for hours.

Vinca Russell

January 2013

(pub: Titan Books. 400 page paperback. Price: £ 7.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-0-85768-979-5)

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