Science fiction and fantasy                                            

Spectred Isle

by K. J. Charles

Set in 1923, Spectred Isle features an archaeologist, Saul Lazenby, who has a deep shame about his homosexuality. He works for Major Peabody, an older man who has superstitions coming out of his ears, and his job is to investigate whatever occult matter the Major is interested in. Saul is hurting for money, so no matter what he thinks of his employer's obsessions he can't afford to be critical of them.

Saul visits an oak in a park which was linked to a local prophetess, only for it to ignite violently and apparently spontaneously. Enter Randolph Glyde, a mysterious stranger who turns up at the scene, and again later as if by coincidence. Saul and Randolph get off to a bad start, and keep bumping into each other as occult activity accelerates in London.

The story is told from both Saul and Randolph's viewpoints. Randolph is part of a band of occult chasers. The Shadow Ministry, a secret part of the British government, want all of the occultists to work for them. However, Randolph and his friends hate the Ministry.

Wartime catastrophes have left scars on the world, psychic as well as physical, and the waste of the Great War is an important theme in this very well researched story. There's an involved mystery involving bog monsters, the spirit world, and ancient English supernatural entities. Quite a lot of fast-paced action gets going when the tentacles of the spirit world reach into England to take on the main characters.

At the same time this novel is romantic and lovely, shading into quite explicitly sexy in later chapters. K.J. Charles isn't the kind of writer who fades a scene to black after the characters' first kiss, to say the least.

But it's not all about the love story. Spectred Isle is a rounded tale with an intriguing hook and characters who also seem alive. Saul is troubled and reserved, whereas Randolph has a kind of arrogance mixed with wit and determination. Randolph likes being in charge, but this doesn't cross the line into cruelty or boorishness, so he remains a sympathetic character. The story introduces elements of English folklore that generally aren't overdone in modern literature, so it has a fresh and unpredictable feel.

9th May 2020

Book Details

Year: 2017

Categories: Books

    Male Protagonist  
  Not For The Squeamish  

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Source: own copy