In modern day England, Professor Felix Guichard is called in to identify occult symbols found on the corpse of a young girl. His investigation brings him in contact with a mysterious woman, Jackdaw Hammond, who guards a monumental secret--She's Dead. Or she would be, were it not for magic which has artificially extended her life. But someone else knows her secret. Someone very old and very powerful, who won't rest until they've taken the magic that keeps her alive....
In Krakow in 1585, Dr John Dee, the Elizabethan Alchemist and Occultist, and his assistant Edward Kelley have been summoned by the King of Poland to save the life of his niece, the infamous Countess Elisabeth Bathory. But they soon realize that the only thing worse than the Countess' malady, is the magic that might be able to save her...
As Jackdaw and Felix race to uncover the truth about the person hunting her, it becomes clear that the answers they seek can only be found in the ancient diary of John Dee's assistant, Edward Kelley. Together they must solve a mystery centuries in the making, or die trying.
FTC Dislcaimer: Edelweiss & Blogging For Books provided me with a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. The opinions below are entirely my own.
The story starts in the 16th century where the reader meets Countess Elizabeth Bathory, the niece of the king of Poland, Istvan Bathory. Elizabeth is slowly dying from a mysterious illness that doesn't seem to be responding to any treatment. King Istvan & Elizabeth's husband call in alchemist Dr. John Dee and his assistant Edward Kelley. Dee & Kelley are held captive and given the ultimatum that either they come up with a cure for her or face execution. While at the palace, Dee & Kelley discover there are some other important guests at King Istvan's place -- members of an Inquistion panel! Bad timing!
Fast forwarding to modern times, the reader is introduced to Jackdaw Hammond (such a clunky name for a woman!) and Felix Guichard (pronounced Gwee-shar). Felix is an anthropologist specializing in, as he puts it, "esoteric belief systems... cultural beliefs outside of the mainstream (witchcraft, sorcery, magic, superstition, etc.)" Felix is asked to assist on a murder investigation -- a body of a young woman covered in mysterious symbols no one can decipher. Felix does some research and is able to tie the symbols back to the reign of King Istvan. Jackdaw, or "Jack", brings the urban fantasy element to the plot -- she's secretive about the fact that she's technically dead, kept alive only by magic sigils (symbols) tatooed on her skin. Jack tries to save girls who may share her same fate, one such girl being Sadie. People start trying to hunt down Jack & Sadie, wanting the secret to immortality.Jack and Felix team up to figure out the origin of the symbols, their secrets, and who these people hunting them might be. The chapters then flip-flop between modern times and the time of Elizabeth Bathory, progressively explaining the tie between the two (trying to avoid giving away spoilers here).
I found myself really intrigued by the historical fiction-paranormal-scifi mashup offered in this story...at least at first. I wish there had been some more tension written into the plot. There just seemed to be a lot of "don't leave the circle or you die" over and over again in every chapter. The story was entertaining enough, but there were no mind-blowing plot twists for me. Also, I was a little confused at the attempt at a romance all of a sudden between Jack & Felix. It just felt like the author went that route because maybe she assumed her readers would expect a romance of some kind to be in the story. But it wasn't really all that well developed between them. There wasn't any slow build up to the friendship where a romance would have seemed inevitable, but there also wasn't any death defying moment where even insta-love could have plausibly been written in... they just felt very mashed together.
I got pulled in a little more around the 210 page mark, but the whole book is only 365 pages. Also, the writing style was very reminiscent of the tone and flow of Bram Stoker's Dracula. That may have been somewhat intentional, as the historical fiction portions of the story do periodically mention Transylvania and the Carpathian Mountains. As I read on, I also noticed likenesses (probably just coincidental) to tone & storyline elements from the Inkheart series by Cornelia Funke and Fall of The House of Usher by Edgar Allan Poe. I am in no way knocking the author for this, I actually thought it was kinda cool to be reminded of these other stories while reading Alexander's novel. So if you like those kind of stories, I recommend checking out this one. Like I said, had there been a little more plot tension, I think I would have really loved this one.