Yanis has grown up as a slave in an orphanage and leaps at the chance to be apprenticed to the mysterious Dr Gomarus, who takes him off to a remote prison to photograph convicts’ skulls. There Yanis is fascinated by the revolutionary Nikolay Kolchak and acts as go-between for him and the alluring Countess who is sharing Dr Gomarus’s lodging. Yanis has to grow up fast, re-evaluating his childish belief in the Tsar but also discovering that his own instincts are not always to be trusted. By the end of the novel Yanis has unwittingly become implicated in a revolutionary plot and must decide whether to betray the revolutionaries by whom he has been used.
Elboz writes very stylish, atmospheric prose and creates vivid characters to people the alternative Tsarist Russia in which his Gothic tale is set. The novel ends on a cliffhanger – a sequel is obviously in the pipeline. Unfortunately, The Prisoner’s Apprentice feels like half a story rather than a whole novel – although I would love to know the end of Yanis’s story, I felt cheated. Elboz has laid out various promising beginnings to plots concerning the Countess, Dr Gomarus, Kolchak and Yanis’s connection with all of them, but the storyline of this particular instalment doesn’t satisfy in itself. This is a shame, as otherwise Elboz writes with engaging panache and it is easy to lose oneself in his chilly, sinister world.