The Ashes of London (Marwood and Lovett #1), by Andrew Taylor

Seven starsMy first trip into the world of Andrew Taylor’s historical fiction was sure to be exciting. The cover and title drew me in while I was walking through the library on one occasion and I could not wait to see if it lived up to my expectations. It’s September of 1666 and London is burning! The Great Fire has begun sweeping through the city and people are dying en masse. Smoke and ash pepper various streets, including the massive structure of St. Paul’s Cathedral, thought to be impregnable. Amongst the debris found within this great church is a body, badly charred and with its hands pushed behind the back, thumbs tied. James Marwood serves as a government informer and reluctantly agrees to begin searching for what might have happened so that the killer can be apprehended. Marwood struggles, as he seeks to shed himself of his father’s shadow, a former printer and admitted plotter in the death of the former king. England is still shaking off the shackles of their Civil War and Cromwell’s time as head of the government, though sentiments are still divided. As Marwood investigates, more bodies with similar thumb bindings are found, forcing him to explore numerous motives. With calls to bring those guilty of regicide to justice, there is a theme of the End of Days as well, pointing to the ‘666’ in the current year. Might England be preparing for an ecclesiastical event, begun with a raging fire? Marwood explores all his options while others are wrestling with issues of their own and London comes to terms with the devastation, seeking to rise from the ashes and rebuild in short order. Taylor propels readers into this interesting piece, full of drama, mystery, and history. Recommended to those who enjoy English history and murder, blended into a strong piece of fiction.As this was my first novel by Andrew Taylor, I was unsure what I ought to expect. He gives the reader little time to acclimate, as the history comes flooding in on the opening page. While some may be put off by the immediate slide into the past, there is no better way to get involved than to toss the reader off the literary deep end. Taylor uses a handful of strong characters to lay the groundwork for this novel, now known to be the first in a series. James Marwood is an interesting protagonist, taking the reader along on this complex journey through both formal duties and personal struggles. Taylor portrays Marwood as a man who seek to balance his life, though there are stains upon his character that he cannot remove, carrying the Marwood name. Some of the other storylines developed, though I will admit that by listening to the audiobook, my attention was sometimes waylaid and I could not focus as attentively as I might have liked. Still, some underlying themes in character development showed me that others had interesting instances of personal growth. The story was sound and I enjoyed some of the historical references and banter, as well as appearances by those who played a key role in shaping London after the fire. The political and regal influences within the narrative were also of great interest to me, as was the religious undertones hinted at throughout. I knew of the Great Fire, but had not given it much thought, at least until reading Taylor’s piece. I may return to read the second in the series, though am debating picking up a book version and re-reading this novel to collect the full impact before moving forward with future series novels.Kudos, Mr. Taylor for an entertaining read. High praise for you, though I suspect I ought to read this one again, eyes on the page, to give it the merit it deserves.A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

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