The Camelot Shadow by Sean Gibson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I got this book free for a review
I never knew I wanted to read a Dan Brown-style thriller that takes place in Victorian England. But one day I became Goodreads friends with Anne Hannah because I love her review style. I especially love her no-nonsense take on comics. One day Sean Gibson started making funny comments on her reviews. I went over to his reviews and immediately became GR friends with him. It may or may not be your cup of tea, but his reviews were right up my alley. Back in may he mentioned on his GR author’s blog that he’d be giving away copies of this book for a review. I read the description and it sounded nuts. And I was afraid – what if Sean is great at funny GR reviews, but not a great author? What if I have to give the book a low review? But my curiosity over how this plot could work over-rode my fears.
Thankfully I had no reason to fear! His writing voice for this novel is not as irreverent as his review tone, but that’s more or less all you need to know to calibrate your expectations. As for the setting, frankly I think it is easier to write a less convoluted Dan Brown-style McGuffin story when you write in an older setting; you don’t have to write your way around cell phones and the Internet. You can head somewhere on a days-long journey and end up with the person you were going to talk to having died and now you’ve wasted time on your time-limited journey. In the modern world you have to resort to some convoluted plot point where everyone lost their cell phones and/or the train ONLY goes through areas without cell service.
I like the characters Sean gives us and I think it’s a sign of his writing chops that I know intellectually that Gibson seems to have written a story that can’t continue and yet I want to spend more time with these characters. And, to up the ante on anyone reading this review before getting to the book, Sean isn’t afraid to kill characters you would have though protected by plot armor. And the characters are developed enough for the death to mean something.
Actually, that reminds me – for a story that’s mostly an adventure tale, there’s some serious stuff in there that hits hard. First of all, one of the characters visited by our main characters is suffering from some heavy Alzheimer’s. Sean toes the line between getting too heavy by peppering in some light moments, but that part hit me hard. It’s such an emotion screw that people don’t stay gone; that they have moments of lucidity. That was a deep scene that actually hit me harder than the deaths. And Sean also did a good job with Alfred’s dealing with his wife’s sickness. The chunk of the book, in particular, in which Alfred has fallen into a deep depression was also a hard hit – particularly where it occurs in the plot.
Finally, to end on a fun note, Gibson does a great job with the thriller double-crossing trope. There’s at least one person who’s triple crossing everyone. You can’t really trust anyone’s motives outside of our main protagonist. There was one very predictable face-heel turn, but the heel-face turn was not foreseen by me and most of the others were surprising, but not in an M. Night Shamalayan cheap sort of way.
So if you’re into the Brownian hunt for an artifact from legend/history genre, I’d definitely give this one a read. I think this Sean-kid is going places.