Fourth Victorian occult/steampunk adventure for Queen Victoria's special agents Sir Maurice Newbury and Miss Veronica Hobbes and their Scotland Yard counterpart, Chief Inspector Sir Charles Bainbridge (The Immorality Engine, 2011, etc.).
Bainbridge ponders a string of grisly murders, each with the victim’s chest cracked open and the heart torn out, and speculates as to a supernatural motive. Newbury, however, severely weakened by the occult treatments he’s giving to Amelia, Miss Hobbes’ psychic sister (she was severely damaged in the previous adventure), has another difficult problem. He’s been engaged by Edward, Prince of Wales, who, amid concerns that his mother is losing her grip on the nation, rumbles about German spies and the possibility of war. After some tepid sleuthing, it emerges that the murders are probably the work of an implacable mercenary known as the Executioner, a tattooed and seemingly immortal Frenchwoman with an artificial heart. Miss Hobbes, meanwhile, suspects Bainbridge of plotting against Queen Victoria, a dying and vindictive hulk kept alive only by repulsive machines. When summoned to the royal presence, our heroes loyally suppress treasonous thoughts but soon will no longer be able to ignore the mad, bad queen’s malign influence. And what, precisely, are the Prince of Wales’ real motives? The Executioner proves a worthy but one-dimensional antagonist, with a heroic Newbury enjoying several James Bond–ish escapades, royal plotting by inference rather than deduction, the doughty Miss Hobbes given nothing much to do and a great deal of stage-setting for future entries.
Exciting but less than fully satisfying.