The Last Seal by Richard Denning (book review).

January 29, 2015 | By | Reply More

There are two kinds of people who go along the self-publishing route. There are those who are disgruntled with the publishers who obviously cannot see the genius of their work and want to prove them wrong by being a best seller by doing it themselves. Then there are the realistic. This group includes those who have something to say of interest but cannot find the non-fiction publisher to add them to their over-loaded schedules, the poets and those who don’t expect to make waves but would just like to see their work between covers. Richard Denning is a realist. Writing is a hobby. Publishing it is an extension of that. He reckons that if he manages to sell five hundred copies of a book he is doing extraordinarily well. His expectations are lower and realistic. To a certain extent, he puts himself down.


‘The Last Seal’ is a historical fantasy. It has a number of factors going for it. The first and most important is that it is competently written and in a style that most young people would accept with ease. The actual age group that it is aimed at is a little difficult to determine as the ages of the two main characters, Ben and Freya, are not easy to determine. Ben is a pupil at Westminster School in 1666 and seems to have the attitude and status of no older than about thirteen. Freya is a street urchin of probably the same age. This then is a book that would probably be enjoyed by readers in their early teens.

The setting is London in September 1666 and most adults would immediately sense the resonance of the date. Indeed, the bulk of the novel is set during the days in which the Great Fire surged through the streets of the city. Great pains have been taken to make this historically accurate and in this Denning cannot be faulted. He has laid on top of this an adventure for the two children and their adult friends, each using talents and courage previously unknown to them. Freya might, to adult readers, seem like a stock character, the street child who knows the byways and alleys intimately. To the younger reader, this will be fresh and exciting. They are pursued by authorities who think they have something to do with the start of the conflagration as homes burn around them. There are frequent narrow escapes. Yes, some of the events seem like contrived coincidences, but in context it is easy to forgive.

An added dimension is the presence of Artemas, a man who wishes to raise a demon called Dantalion. Almost three hundred years previously, he was defeated and entombed by Cornelius Silver, a sorcerer. Artemas has discovered that if he can destroy the six seals surrounding his place of incarceration he will be able to free the demon. They are all hidden within the City of London and fire will break them. So it wasn’t an absent-minded baker that started the fire but Artemas as the first seal was buried under the shop next door. As are so many villains, Artemas is misguided and greedy enough to believe Dantalion’s promise that he will share the governance of the new order.

The biggest issue with the novel is that Denning doesn’t always stick to the point of view of Ben and Freya. Taking it into the minds of the adult members of the cast is likely to alienate the younger reader who wants to follow the characters they identify with rather than be given a detailed biography of the villain. With a little pruning, this could be a good adventure for the pre-YA audience.

A big problem that often affects many self-published books is the choice of cover. Here, although the background is well executed, the figures of Ben and Freya have a cartoonish appearance. Some self-published books are riddled with proof-reading errors. There are some within these pages but not as many as I’ve seen elsewhere and why do authors in this situation fail to put the price on the book?

On the whole, this is a reasonable effort. It could have done with better editing and packaging but there are a lot of children who may well enjoy it for its adventure.

Pauline Morgan

January 2015

(pub: Mercia Books. 381 page enlarged paperback. Price: £ 9.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-0-9568103-9-7)

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Category: Books, Fantasy, Steampunk

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