Sunday, June 12, 2022

The Theatre of Shadows by Christian Ellingsen

book cover for The Theatre of ShadowsSix months have passed since the events of The Silver Mask. Over the winter months, Vasini was plagued by Gareth Miller, the Winter Fayre Killer, who murdered 17 people before he was captured by Lieutenant David Locke. The city now waits for Miller to be hanged. But when Miller escapes gaol, ready to terrorise Vasini's streets once more, Locke must hunt the murderer again to stop him from claiming more lives.

As Miller flees into Vasini's streets, Joseph Bastin, ambassador to Vasini for the city-state of Laège, is assassinated in a brothel. With the threat of political repercussions for the death, it is up to Dr. Marcus Fox, newly appointed Commandant of Police, to find the ambassador's killer.

Fox's investigation soon leads to a suspect, someone who has been investigating links between the Laège embassy and the worship of the dead deities - his ally, Dr. Elizabeth Reid.

Now, Elizabeth and her friend, Catherine, must act quickly to clear her name before she is found by someone who doesn't believe her claims of innocence and she's forced to dance the hangman's jig.

This is the sequel to The Silver Mask, a terrific "flintlock and alchemy" novel. Unfortunately, The Theatre of Shadows wasn't as enjoyable for me due to the plot style and pacing. The story read more like a police procedural set in the 1700s, which isn't the sort of thing—regardless of time period—that I read. Investigating the ambassador's murder provided enough intrigue, but the serial killer plotline kept getting in the way, hogging the spotlight. Maybe the serial killer was fully developed in The Winter Fayre, a novella contained in The Divided River that preceded this novel, but here he's rather one-dimensional. He's always two steps ahead of the Inspectorate and the watchmen (police), rendering them seemingly incompetent as he murders people with impunity. It went on for far too long for me. It took roughly three-fifths of the novel before any sort of clue was given as to why the serial killer plotline even existed, and it wasn't resolved until much later.

The main characters from The Silver Mask—Fox, Locke, Elizabeth, and Catherine—are here. While fully developed before, they weren't neglected here. Fox and Locke are in pursuit of the ambassador's assassin and the serial killer. Elizabeth and Catherine spend their time searching for clues to clear Elizabeth's name of killing the ambassador. Ellingsen gives us each main character's POV—as well as those of a few key minor characters—as they investigate, thus enriching the depth of each one.

Ellingsen doesn't spend as much time world-building here as he did in The Silver Mask, but what he provides is top-notch. The city of Vasini feels authentic with Ellingsen's descriptions of the sights and scents of everyday life.

Ultimately, the protagonists' relentless pursuit of clues paid off. Ellingsen corraled the plot into a climax that resolved the current crises of random murder and calculated assassination. It was an effective ending, and so I feel better about the book as a whole. But for me, it was probably a hundred pages too long. However, I remain optimistic that the next installment in this series will have more intrigue and less procedure.

3 stars
Just to be clear: This book was not submitted to us. I went out and bought it on my own.


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