Series: Her Majesty's Psychic Service #1
Published by Macmillan on May 19th 2015
Genres: Fantasy, Steampunk
Sexual Content: One brief scene of implied debauchery.
Reviewed by: Megan
On a freezing Christmas Eve in 1879, a forensic psychic reader is summoned from her Baker Street lodgings to the scene of a questionable death. Alexandrina Victoria Pendlebury (named after her godmother, the current Queen of England) is adamant that the death in question is a magically compromised murder and not a suicide, as the police had assumed, after the shocking revelation contained by the body in question, Alex must put her personal loss aside to uncover the deeper issues at stake, before more bodies turn up. Turning to some choice allies--the handsome, prescient Lieutenant Brooks, the brilliant, enigmatic Lord Desmond, and her rapscallion cousin James--Alex will have to marshal all of her magical and mental acumen to save Queen and Country from a shadowy threat. Our singular heroine is caught up in this rousing gaslamp adventure of cloaked assassins, meddlesome family, and dark magic.
I'm a little wary of a book that heads each chapter with the device, 'In which ...' and, indeed, THE HANGED MAN by P.N. Elrod is fairly typical of the genre that mixes steampunk with the Victorian lady detective. Alex Pendlebury, 'blessed' with a paranormal gift, is on her way to spinsterhood, being far too straight-forward and observational for her upper-class peers, though she lacks the wry sense of humor of many of her fellows in the genre. Pleasant, though routine, THE HANGED MAN reminded me of a number of other books, cobbled together.
THE HANGED MAN starts slowly, despite opening on the scene of a murder. Alex's background comes out bit by bit, which is fine, but it mimics the pace of the story. A hundred pages go by before the reader gets a good look at the Psychic Service of which Alex is a member. Her function is made clear at the start, but the purpose of the larger government arm (which is supposedly the glue holding this fledgling series together) is frustratingly vague for too long. When it picks up, the tropes become recognizable - not necessarily a bad thing, just a bit paint-by-numbers.
There's the acquaintance who hides intelligence and competence behind a foppish demeanor, the relations who still have their noses out of joint over a childhood incident, the secret society of questionable science...the list goes on. I love a good trope, but these, in particular, seem far too common to this kind of story, and as Elrod plays them straight, there's not much in the way of surprises. A few of the supporting characters have interesting quirks that I hope will be drawn out in future books - such as Lieutenant Brooks' absent-minded precognition, and Sybil the Seer's unexpected eye for fashion. With a particularly sweet ending, I'd say THE HANGED MAN is an enjoyable walk through familiar territory.Series Titles:
- The Hanged Man