Adam McOmber’s debut novel is set in Victorian London in an area I know well, at least in contemporary terms. Jane Silverlake and her friends Madeline Lee and Nathan Ashe live in Hampstead and regularly take walks on Hampstead Heath, the ‘Green Lungs of London’, my favourite London park. At 790 acres, it is the largest and being wooded, you can imagine it is almost a little wild in parts and certainly the closest relatively untouched inner city natural environment you will find.
Gentle rolling hills, natural swimming ponds, light forest with a few park benches scattered throughout, it reminds us of those who have appreciated its precious gift over the years.
However, most of that is in the future, because Jane and Maddy are living in 18 – – and concerned about the strange behaviour of their friend Nathan, since he returned from the Crimea War and took up with the strange, alluring Ariston Day and his secret society of young, wealthy male followers whom he refers to as ‘Fetches’.
Jane had become a loner after her mother died due to the wary reaction of others to her peculiar sensitivity, until Maddy sought her out and now with Nathan, she is content to have such close friends, even though suspicious of Nathan’s pressing interest in her strange abilities.
Jane has a talent for sensing the mood of objects around her and Nathan is interested in her skill when he discovers her ability to transfer this sensation through touch. Frustrated with his persistence and wish to experiment, she is shocked when she subsequently hears he has disappeared and that the cult he was involved with believe she had something to do with it.
My newfound ability allowed me to see past those surfaces into another reality – a universe of animate space concealed within the inanimate.
When I looked into the faces of my friends, I became all the more determined to put right the wrongs I’d done. But in order to do so, I still needed to understand my own nature.
Maddy and Jane decide to take matters into their own hands and try to find Nathan, leading them to a place from which they risk not being able to return.
This is one of those books, where we don’t understand all that is going on with the characters as the author presents them. Are they really friends these three or is something else going on? Who can be trusted? Adam McOmber does well to keep the reader guessing without giving things away, though perhaps keeps us on a string a little too long waiting for Jane to embrace her power and use it. She is somewhat the reluctant heroine, but once she finally assumes that role, it is more exciting and less frightening to follow her into the depths of this macabre adventure.
Slightly eerie, steampunk literature that I can quite imagine being made into a compelling film, it has the potential to be more scary on-screen, but inhabits an enticing era and parts of Victorian London, including The Crystal Palace, originally built-in Hyde Park to house the Great Exhibition of 1851, Southwark now home to the Tate Modern, the hidden Temple area and of course the Heath.
This is Adam McOmber’s debut novel, he also has a collection of short stories out called This New and Poisonous Air, and I have a feeling we will be seeing more from him in the future.
Note: This was an Advanced Reader Copy (ARC) made available from the publisher via NetGalley.