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The Drowned City by K.J. Maitland

Writing.ie | Book Reviews | Historical Fiction

By Swirl and Thread

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The Drowned City by K.J. Maitland is published with Headline Fiction. The first book in a new series it is described as a ‘compelling historical thriller for fans of C.J. Sansom, Andrew Taylor’s Ashes of London, Kate Mosse and Blood & Sugar’.

On reading The Drowned City I was immediately struck by the stench off the pages with descriptions that were just so vivid. Set in 1606, Bristol city was decimated by a great flood that took the lives of over 2000 people. When K. J. Maitland came upon an old broadside news item describing the event it was to become her inspiration for a new series featuring Daniel Pursglove.

The cause of the flood was never fully established with witness statements featuring a giant wave.

‘In the open sea near the coast of North Devon, the wave was just under 13ft high, but as it entered the Bristol Channel and the Severn Estuary, the wave increased to 16 feet and was over 25 feet high by the time it reached the Monmouthshire coast with a speed of 38mph.’

For the residents of Bristol many thought witchcraft was behind this and after the terror and fear following the Gunpowder plot many Catholics were the target of the towns anger and rage.

King James I is unsettled when he hears rumours of a possible resurgence of the Jesuits and, following a meeting with his advisor, Charles FitzAlan, Daniel Pursglove is sent to Bristol to uncover any possible threat that may be bubbling up there. Daniel Pursglove is a character with rather a veiled past. In Newgate prison he was awaiting an impending death among the chewing rats and the slime dripping walls of The Hole where ‘the air was clotted with the sweat of unwashed flesh, the fetid breath and farts from sour stomachs and the noxious clouds of tarry smoke’ But Daniel has skills that FitzAlan is in need of so he is removed from the horrors of Newgate and sent to Bristol on a mission to find Spero Pettingar, a man believed to be a conspirator against the Crown.

Daniel Pursglove arrives into Bristol with a cover story and a purse and sets about tracking down any valuable information and possible leads. He stays in a local hostelry, one of the few left standing but the poverty, the death, the destruction has decimated this once thriving port city. He is a blow-in, a man well-dressed with a few bob in his pocket and his presence soon raises suspicions. Bristol is a city in turmoil. Its people are crazed, starved by the devastation surrounding them. Many now homeless resort to begging as they trail along on legs seeping pores and bodies fit for nothing. The search for Pettingar becomes a struggle to survive as Pursglove soon finds himself immersed in a hotbed of thievery and mistrust. This is a community ravaged, one intent on laying the blame on someone. There are very visual depictions throughout The Drowned City that evoke a sense of sorrow and pain. Neighbours turned on neighbours, children were left starved and the criminal drove every opportunity to increase their foothold in this hell on earth.

K.J. Maitland has written a very absorbing book that is steeped in menace and political paranoia. Daniel Pursglove is a new protagonist full of mystery and intrigue, with enough revealed to demand more in a series that will be perfect for all fans of C.J. Sansom’s Shardlake series. Dark, disturbing, dank and atmospheric, The Drowned City will capture the imagination of every reader with its portrayal of a city on its knees. The historical background is fascinating with the depiction of this period brought so dramatically alive.

Deceit, murder and revenge abound making The Drowned City a very appealing launch for a new series with a very mysterious protagonist that needs to be explored further. With very violent and brutal descriptions that are exceptionally painted and remarkably conveyed to the reader, I would suggest that this is not a book to be read while eating!

(c) Swirl and Thread

Order your copy online here.

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