John knew where he was with iron, or salt, or a sulky furnace. He knew where he was with his sigils and herbs. But he was trained for industry, for the painstaking preparations and day-to-day drudgery of factory magic. And now he was caught in a morass of mystery and magic and lust, and he was out of his depth. [loc. 1972]
This kind of thing really isn't Blake's domain. He's a materials man: son of an ironmonger, most recently employed on the construction and protection of the Crystal Palace, he is an accomplished practitioner who's painstakingly trained himself to conceal his working-class origins. Lord Dalton, Thornby's father, accepts Blake's presence without question: but his spells don't seem to work on Thornby at all. It makes no sense.
This novel kept surprising me. The fantastical elements are interestingly combined -- I would love to know more about the scientific system of magic, and about Blake's relationship with his materials -- and the romance reassuringly credible. (There were only a couple of points where I felt a plot obstacle could have been resolved if the characters actually, y'know, talked to one another.) But most interesting to me was the theme of social class. Blake's lowly origins would usually set him beneath Thornby's notice: but Thornby is smart enough to recognise an expert, and relaxed enough to tease Blake about their different social standing.
Good dialogue, a surprise hedgehog, and female characters who have distinct personalities (though could have done with a bit more rounding: what was Aunt Amelia doing in Cairo and why did she come back?) I'd love to read more novels set in this world, and I'll look out for more by this author.
I received a free ARC from the author in exchange for an honest review. Thank you, Lee Welch!