Monday, July 7, 2014

Review: The Whitechapel Demon

Readers of Libram Mysterium will undoubtedly recognize Josh Reynolds as the author of the excellent short story, Mordiggian's Due.  Josh is an incredibly prolific writer who, in addition to numerous Warhammer and Warhammer 40K tie-in novels for Black Library, has written a huge number of short stories, many of them featuring the exploits of Charles St. Cyprian, the Royal Occultist.

The Whitechapel Demon is the first novel in The Adventures of The Royal Occultist series, and was my first introduction to Charles St. Cyprian, an occult sleuth who holds the office of Royal Occultist, which was established in the sixteenth century by Elizabeth I for John Dee.  Put simply, it is the duty of St. Cyprian and his apprentice, Ebbe Gallowglass, to counter supernatural menaces that are beyond the conventional scope of His Majesty's government; a duty that pushes them to their limits when cultists of the Whitechapel Society attempt to call up the spirit of Jack the Ripper and instead attract the attention of something far worse: a demonic entity that wriggles its way through non-Euclidian angles and into our world.

The Whitechapel Demon fires on all cylinders and has everything that I love in a story: mad cultists, sinister demons, compelling characters, and frequent dashes of humour.  Josh deftly balances setting and pace, firmly grounding the novel in 1920 London while carrying us from scene to scene maintaining dramatic tension along the way.  This is no easy thing to do, but the story is so eloquently written that it is easy to forget you're reading a book and not careening through the streets of Whitechapel in the rumble seat of St. Cyprian's car with the hounds of hell breathing down your neck.

The characters are equally well-written.  St. Cyprian is a suave and charming Oxford man, an occult scholar, and veteran of the Great War who has his own inner demons to battle in addition to those conjured up by malfeasant miscreants.  His counter-part, Ms. Gallowglass, plucked from the mean streets of Cairo, is quick on the draw with sarcastic remarks, vulgar gestures, or lethal volleys of gunfire as circumstances demand, and she is an excellent foil for her mentor: a pugnacious and irascible Watson to St. Cyprian's Holmes.

It occurred to me while reading this book, that The Whitechapel Demon might especially appeal to lovers of Chaosium's Call of Cthulhu roleplaying game.  While the book only dances on the fringes of Lovecraft's mythos, St. Cyprian and Gallowglass are archetypal mythos investigators, particularly in campaigns that are focused more on keeping the forces of darkness at bay than on nihilistic existentialism.  In any event there is enough common ground here that fans of Lovecraftian horror are likely to also enjoy the Adventures of the Royal Occultist.

Learn more about the Royal Occultist by visiting Charles St. Cyprian's blog.

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