I should also mention two other historical figures who feature prominently in this novel: Dr. John Dee and Edward Kelley. Dee was famous in his time as a mathematician, astrologer, and all around "magic man" to Queen Elizabeth I. Kelley was Dee's assistant and had a reputation for channeling messages from angels. In this story, the men find themselves traveling through Poland at the request of the Polish King to save his sister Elizabeth Bathory from certain death.
The other side of this story continues in today's world, with Jackdaw Hammond. She's a 30-something young woman who has an unusual life--she's actually dead. What keeps her alive are the symbols on her skin and the mystic potion she drinks regularly to stay alive. And where do these come from? Yep. Dee and Kelley's trip to Poland, hundreds of years before Jackdaw modern England.
Is Elizabeth Bathory still around, hunting victims in present day England? Who is draining other people like Jackdaw of blood? Jackdaw is working to save people who have been assigned a time to die, but are saved from certain death by the symbols and potion created by Dee and Kelley. It's a lonely existence and quite frankly exhausting keeping death at bay.
We all know messing with a sure thing like death is never a good idea, and all of this comes back to create high drama for Jackdaw and occult expert Felix Guichard. The novel starts a bit slow, with back and forth between Dee and Kelley's adventure in 1585 Poland to present day England and a crime scene Felix has been called to investigate for occult symbolism. Soon, however, the novel picks up speed and I found myself on the edge of my couch, hoping Dee and Kelley would fail on their mission, but knowing their success was creating a puzzling and potentially horrible situation for Jackdaw and Felix.
I did enjoy this novel. It was very different from the usual sci-fi/fantasy stuff I usually read, and that's not a bad thing. I always love a mix of history and fantasy, and I thought this was a clever plot. At the end, I was left wanting to read more of Jackdaw and Felix. Surely there are more adventures for them! The major theme of triumph over death made me ponder the whole idea of everyone having a time to die. Whether that time is young or old, peaceful or not, should we ever be able to choose or change it? Or even stop it completely?
Rating: 7/10 for a clever mix of historical figures and fantasy. A good book for a sci-fi book club to read and discuss. This is a novel that requires a bit of reflection after you've turned the last page.
Available in paperback and e-book.