I received a free copy of 'The Aylesford Skull' from the publisher through a giveaway on Goodreads.com.
Although this is actually the seventh novel in the 'Langdon St Ives' series, it is the first of James P Blaylock's novels that I've come across. It is also the first full length Steampunk novel I've read.
Under usual circumstances, I would never consider reading a novel that far into a series when I haven't read all of the previous instalments. However, I was just so intrigued by the premise of this book that I couldn't resist. The blurb proclaimed
It is the summer of 1883 and Professor Langdon St. Ives - brilliant but eccentric scientist and explorer - is at home in Aylesford with his family. However, a few miles to the north a steam launch has been taken by pirates above Egypt Bay; the crew murdered and pitched overboard. In Aylesford itself a grave is opened and possibly robbed of the skull. The suspected grave robber, the infamous Dr. Ignacio Narbondo, is an old nemesis of Langdon St. Ives.Who could resist that kind of plot? Not me. So I got stuck in, determined not to let the fact that I had no prior knowledge of the characters taint my reading. And I'm glad I did. I can honestly say that you don't need to know anything at all about St Ives or his nemesis Narbondo before you open the book. Everything you need to know you can pick up in the pages of 'The Aylesford Skull'. Important plot points from previous novels are referenced well, without going into overly-done flashback mode and I really didn't feel as though I'd missed out on too much background information.
When Dr. Narbondo returns to kidnap his four-year-old son Eddie and then vanishes into the night, St. Ives and his factotum Hasbro race to London in pursuit...
The action began immediately and it sucked me straight into the world of Langdon St Ives, the hero of the novel. St Ives is an interesting hero. He's a typical Victorian gentleman with a not so typical talent for solving mysteries and averting crimes. He's attempting to live a comfortable and relaxing life in Aylesford with his wife and two young children. But as you might expect, things don't go according to plan when St Ives old nemesis Dr Ignacio Narbondo arrives on the scene.
I hate to admit it, but Narbondo, the perfect villain might just be my favourite character in the novel. He is so perfectly evil and dedicated to his dark ways that he fascinated me. Blaylock certainly knows how to write a villain and the hunchbacked doctor keeps coming into my mind even days after closing the book. For me, that's always a sign of good storytelling.
The novel itself was beautifully written, stylistically flawless and full of intricate details that really make the reading experience special. The novel moved at a steady pace, the plot moving forward without any slumps. And then when the climax began to come into sight, I began to turn the pages faster, the chapters coming and going before my eyes at a much faster pace. The momentum increased to match the level of action and I flew through probably the last third of the book in a day. An ending like that, one that fires up and keeps you guessing with its plot twists and suspense-inspiring characterisation is such a rare treat that I was sad to turn the final page.
The rest of Blaylock's Langdon St Ives novels are now on my Wish List. I need another dose of Blaylock's Steampunk London. A definite recommendation to anybody who loves Sci-fi or historical fiction.