A masterful debut from Londoner Norfolk that delves into 18th- century commerce by way of classical mythology, suggesting grim secrets behind the spectacular success of the East India Company- -secrets that have root in the mass suicide of Huguenots under siege in the French port city of Rochelle more that a century earlier. Deftly merging history, classical allusions, and fabulous fantasy, in a style that merits comparison to Dickens as well as Gilbert & Sullivan, Norfolk conjures up an imaginary life of John Lempriäre, actual author of a popular precursor to Bullfinch's Mythology. As an awkward young man on the isle of Jersey, John witnesses his father's violent death when assaulted by a pack of savage hounds owned by neighbor Viscount Casterleigh, whose daughter John loves with paralyzing passion. Then, while settling his father's estate in London, he learns of a mysterious contract between a distant Huguenot ancestor and an English earl, and his interest in it grows as he makes contact with others who fill in pieces of the puzzle. Meanwhile, in caverns deep beneath the city, a cabbala plots to lure young Lempriäre into their midst using member Casterleigh's daughter as bait; an assassin from the Indian Nawab' palace stalks the two; a ship full of ancient mariners, pirates all, plies its way to the London docks in pursuit of a cargo of sulphur from which to make gunpowder; and unrest among city laborers and the lower classes grows, incited by the firebrand Farina. Lempriäre comes face-to-face with the cabbala in their lair, where he finds their leader to be his own distant ancestor and learns why he was encouraged to write his dictionary, triggering a larger conflagration as the assassin, pirates, and the mob make their moves while the evil Company is destroyed, literally, by an avenging angel. Wildly and wonderfully improbable, reveling in the countless allusions that feed its dark vision: a delight for classicists, historians, and any reader eager to be overwhelmed by a story. An exceptional achievement.