The Chatelaine And The Storm (Queen Victoria’s Magicians book 2) by James Odell (book review).

‘The Chatelaine And The Storm’ is the second book in James Odell’s series about Samantha Hampden who. in book one of the ‘Queen Victoria’s Magicians’ series, unexpectedly became Chatelaine of the Guild of Magicians in Victorian London. It carries on straight after the book one, ‘Chatelaine Of The Guild’ with the same characters. Quite a few characters, actually and a cast list at the start might have been handy.

The setting is Victorian London with airships and the Babbage Analytical Engine as minor Steampunk trappings. The cast are about half-ordinary people and half-Lords and Ladies. This was a time when the working class was getting a bit uppity and the gentlemen in charge weren’t quite sure what to do about it. Some favoured strong repression, some thought the workers had a point and were sympathetic. The Chatelaine of the Guild is in the second group.

The first thing to say is that I enjoyed it by the end. It builds to a good climax and there is enough interest and suspense in the last half of the book to make it all worthwhile. The second thing to say is that the first half was too slow. Honestly, if I wasn’t a dedicated reviewer I might have put it to one side.

There may have been several reasons for this. Partly, I suspect, it was my fault. I was picking it up now and then rather than reading it continuously the way one ought. Sometimes you can get away with that but not in a book where the chapters are split into short sections three or four pages long and there are many switches of viewpoint. As in modern thrillers, Odell gives you the time and place of the scene: ‘Galway, Ireland, 6pm; London, Soho’ and ‘The Analytical Engine, 5 October’. This is useful but some of the scenes are so short it’s hard to settle into the book.

It was definitely worth it in the end. The first half was almost like a Jane Austen or Anthony Trollope novel with characters meeting in nice little rooms and chatting politely over tea. Samantha spent all her time doing this. A lot of it was concerned with recruiting Talkers, telepaths who could man distant outposts like Maine, USA, the Bahamas and the west coast of Ireland and measure weather statistics, reporting them back to London. Then Lady Ada Lovelace could feed the data into Analytical Engine to predict storms. All this was quite interesting but not really gripping. Finally, about half-way through, honest to badness villain Randolph Radley, evil magician, puts in an appearance and things start to pick up. Eventually, there’s a great showdown.

Odell is knowledgeable about the times and the setting and his descriptions of social unrest, politics, manners, customs and so forth are accurate, like Trollope with airships and magicians. I had a thing for Trollope a few years back and read a quantity. I wondered at times why Odell doesn’t just do a straight adventure novel set in Victoria’s reign but I guess, like so many of us, he has a yen for the fantastic.

It’s not easy doing the second book in a series. You have to continue building the back story and setting for future events while at the same time keeping it adventurous enough right now to maintain reader interest. Odell may have erred a little too much on the side of the former here but, I reiterate, it turned out well so I can recommend it.

Eamonn Murphy

April 2017

(pub: Amazon, 2014. 216 page 1190 kB ebook. Price: £ 5.70 (UK). ASIN: B00NE1XC3Y)

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