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by David Liss

Pub Date: Sept. 7th, 2021
ISBN: 978-1-61696-358-3
Publisher: Tachyon

In 1899 London, the scion of a banking family abandons his wastrel life for a lowly job with the firm that draws him deep into supernatural oddities.

Busy, busy, busy. First there’s Liss, who's known for his historical mysteries but who has also written middle-grade science fiction and Marvel stories—14 full-length novels since 2000, plus short fiction and comic books. Then there’s his latest, a historical fantasy that combines the worlds of high finance and occultism, specifically the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn and aberrations such as lycanthropes, ghostly slashers called Elegants,  and women giving birth to rabbits. The hero is Thomas Thresher, age 23, who has been doing little beyond gambling and whoring when he’s forced to take a junior clerk’s post with the family bank and get engaged to the daughter of a Jewish businessman (Liss expends an unpleasant amount of ink reflecting period-appropriate antisemitism). With the proposed nuptials and the bank’s problems in mind, Thomas stumbles on puzzling purchases of debts and London buildings. His investigations lead him to a Golden Dawn gathering, which includes William Butler Yeats, Bram Stoker, and Arthur Conan Doyle. He also meets Aleister Crowley, who becomes an ally, as well as a woman who has turned wolflike, while Thomas himself has green leaves growing on him. Many such Peculiars have appeared in London recently, along with a thick fog that has nasty tendrils, all of it tied perhaps to real estate and mystical portals. There are signs of haste in the writing, and Thomas’ frequent bouts of self-doubt slow the pace, but Liss tells his story well, with some nice Dickensian surprises. What’s most fun is when he snaps off a comic line that plays on the absurdities involved: “Yes, he is becoming a plant, but he comes from an excellent family.”

A colorful read with some rough edges but entertaining throughout.