This novel pits a motley group of musicians against a beast-worshiping cult.
Bedloom trees are “thick, twisted, pointy things,” good for hanging criminals. Bedloomtown, or Bedlam, is split into a prosperous North End and a downtrodden South End. When a nicely dressed woman dies in Midtown of what looks like the sweating sickness, Chief Inspector Donal Wyne investigates. Luckily, his work is aided by testimony from Cael “the Enchanter” Namold, the beloved bard of the Open Casket tavern. The clever bard, a former inspector, deduces that the woman was a violinist, possibly pregnant, and killed by poison. Most disturbing was her insistence before her death that “the eye…they’re everywhere.” Cael recruits his friend and disgraced coroner, Gregor “Sid” Maven, to perform an autopsy. The bard then taps the thief Senjelica Tend and her young ward, Lucy Whipper, to help break into the morgue. While the autopsy does reveal the victim harboring a life, it’s not a human child—it’s something furry and monstrous. Worse, the creature escapes. The Temple of the Eye, responsible for returning its deity Fen’dir, Keeper of Shadows, to physical form, doesn’t take Cael’s interference lightly. The bard, though a champion of the new system of thinking called science, must work with mystics like Orman Hys if he’s to save Bedlam. Huskins’ (Atlas, 2019, etc.) epic fantasy offers a meaty stew Dickens would have relished, complete with a gang of juvenile pickpockets called the Bunch and a progressive plot thread condemning predatory banks. Cael sits comfortably in the Sherlock Holmes mold, eschewing superstition in favor of logic (and sarcasm, frequently saying things like “No, no, no. Never. Not I, no. A bit, yeah”). Superb worldbuilding graces every page, from the author’s philosophers (Yoro Ricini) to cultural oddities (Trevor’s Traveling Troupe). Lines such as “It was long and lean, like a slim man, but black rags hung from it like a snake shedding its skin” add creature-feature ambiance to the well-crafted fantasy. There is a middle episode involving a time machine that some may find intrusive. But ultimately, Cael believes that storytelling is about spreading hope itself.
A horror fantasy packed with creative swagger.