Thanks to NetGalley and Farrar, Straus and Giroux for providing an eARC in exchange for an honest review.
Synopsis: London, 1885. In a city of fog and darkness, the notorious thief Edward Shade exists only as a ghost, a fabled con, a thief of other men’s futures–a man of smoke. William Pinkerton is already famous, the son of a brutal detective, when he descends into the underworld of Victorian London in pursuit of a new lead. His father died without ever tracing Shade; William, still reeling from his loss, is determined to drag the thief out of the shadows. Adam Foole is a gentleman without a past, haunted by a love affair ten years gone. When he receives a letter from his lost beloved, he returns to London in search of her; what he learns of her fate and its connection to the man known as Shade, will force him to confront a grief he thought long-buried. What follows is a fog-enshrouded hunt through sewers, opium dens, drawing rooms, and seance halls. Above all, it’s a story of the most unlikely of bonds: between William Pinkerton, the greatest detective of his age, and Adam Foole, the one man who may hold the key to finding Edward Shade.
So first. Look at that cover. Doesn’t it just draw you in? That’s what initially captured my attention. Then, when I read the synopsis I though this was going to be the perfect read for me. While I did enjoy parts of it, I ran into a few problems. The first concerns the plot. The beginning immediately sucked me right in, and I couldn’t stop reading until I reached the middle of the story. Then things slowed down so much that I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to finish. I think this was partly because it badly needed some more editing. There really wasn’t any reason for this book to be over 700 pages long. If even a couple of hundred pages had been taken out this would have been a much tighter story. What also slowed things down for me was the author’s seeming disdain for punctuation. I feel a little hypocritical bringing this up because punctuation isn’t exactly my strong suit, but I don’t think Price used quotation marks even once. I’m not sure if this was intentional or not, but it made the story extremely difficult to follow at times, particularly when it was switching between time periods and people. I liked the characters and found them interesting, but what really kept me reading was Price’s vivid description of the various settings. Whether the characters were in South Africa with the dangerous Boers and their control of diamond mines; or Victorian London, from the ton’s beautiful drawing rooms to its opium dens and brutal penal system; or the ugliness of the American Civil War and the Underground Railroad–I felt as though I was witnessing events first hand. While the middle part of the book was slow, the pace picked up in the last part of the book and the ending was quite satisfying. Despite its issues, Steven Price truly writes in a beautiful and descriptive way which makes the historical periods he’s focusing on come to life. Because of this, I would definitely try a future novel by him. If you like historical fiction with a nice dose of mystery, you might want to take a look at By Gaslight.