Desert Isle Keeper
Spectred Isle – a title playing on words from Shakespeare’s Richard II – is the first book in a new series based around the natural magic of the English Green Man myth and it’s written by K.J. Charles. Do I need to say more? Okay, that was a rhetorical question. In short, it’s a fantastic book and I loved every moment of it. In long –
Archaeologist Saul Lazenby has been all but unemployable since his disgrace during the War. Now he scrapes a living working for a rich eccentric who believes in magic. Saul knows it’s a lot of nonsense…except that he begins to find himself in increasingly strange and frightening situations. And at every turn he runs into the sardonic, mysterious Randolph Glyde.
Whenever Randolph Glyde appears on the page the word ‘sardonic’ most definitely popped into my head. It took me longer to like him than Saul but eventually, I adored him.
Randolph is the last of an ancient line of arcanists, commanding deep secrets and extraordinary powers as he struggles to fulfil his family duties in a war-torn world. He knows there’s something odd going on with the haunted-looking man who keeps turning up in all the wrong places. The only question for Randolph is whether Saul is victim or villain.
The plot is set in the same world as K.J. Charles’ wonderful The Secret Casebook of Simon Feximal although some years later, in 1920’s England. The First World War is over but unbeknownst to most who fought in it, there was another war going on, referred to as the War Beneath. In this scenario governments were using arcanists and people with occult abilities to harness unnatural forces from beyond the veil, in order to unleash havoc on their enemies.
Most of our heroes in this series were involved, or forced to be, in this war and their work has shredded the veil that divides the world of reality and the supernatural. The small number left have pledged themselves to their ancient duty to protect England from all supernatural threat, and even though so many talented arcanists died during this great war, our heroes fight on. However, they are also in danger from a secret department within the British government, one that is unwilling to face up to the truth about the damage caused during the War Beneath.
Why did I love this novel so much? Firstly, it is explored the English magic and myths I love. I have a Green Man on the wall of my house, even the ancient church in our village has woodland demons and Green Men carved inside – using that symbol was seen as hedging your bets in the eleventh century!
A lot of the action is set in the Cambridgeshire and Lincolnshire Fens, which is the part of the country where I live; although I don’t live in the Fens, Boston Stump and the Fens are within easy driving distance. In Lincolnshire certainly, the Green Man is a very ancient and well known protective entity. It comes from a time where protection and the forces that provided it were not cuddly superheroes. Everything was and is about balance – upset the natural order of things at your peril. This is a constant theme throughout this novel.
K.J. Charles conjures up the atmosphere of the Fenlands with their flat grey skies and endless horizon perfectly. During the story she writes possibly the scariest scenes I have read so far in her books. I won’t describe them, but the whole genius is that the reader feels as though events are unfolding and we are experiencing the weirdness at the same time as the characters #shiver.
The relationship between sweet Saul and ‘devastating’ Randolph, is so good, and like the creeping ivy that makes a regular appearance, inextricably linked with the magic and world of the Green Men. There is intrigue, magic, myth, romance and brilliant secondary characters, a story to get your teeth into and a definite page turner. Thanks to the lovely twist in the title, I am copying below part of John of Gaunt’s death bed speech in Richard II, as I think it brings out certain elements of Spectred Isle perfectly. I highly recommend this novel.
This royal throne of kings, this sceptered isle,
This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars,
This other Eden, demi-paradise,
This fortress built by Nature for her self
Against infection and the hand of war,
This happy breed of men, this little world,
This precious stone set in a silver sea
Which serves it in the office of a wall
Or as a moat defensive to a house,
Against the envy of less happier lands,
This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England.