Readers after a proper romance – by which we mean heaving bosoms in tightly laced stays; an upstairs downstairs love affair; peril and dangers to be overcome; beautiful women, beautiful men and beautiful horses (yes, of course there have to be horses) – need look no further. It’s all here in Ruth Warburton’s new book, and a good bit more besides.
We’re in London,1880. 16-year-old Luke Lexton’s parents were killed by witches and he is sworn to avenge them. To do so he enrols with the Malleus Maleficorum, he’ll become a Hammer of the Witches. There are three initiation tests, the third and most difficult is to kill a witch. His target, chosen by chance or is it fate, is a beautiful 16-year-old girl, Rosa Greenwood.
Rosa and Luke lead very different lives. He works as a smith in the foul-smelling streets of London’s east end. She would seem to have all the privileges and comfort that money can bring. But the reader knows that under the shiny outer show, her clothes are shabby, maintained secretly by magic, while her emotional life is poorer still. Rosa’s mother regards her daughter as an asset to be sold and is determined she will marry Sebastian, a man whose fortune is matched only by his cruelty. Of course Rosa and Luke, a star-crossed couple if ever there was one, will fall in love, but not before Luke has twice come very close to causing her death.
Warburton’s scenes of action and adventure are very good, and the tension is kept high as both Rosa and Luke find themselves in mortal danger. There’s a terrifying climax too in Sebastian’s factory, which convinces equally as enchanted underworld, and dark Satanic mill. The Victorian setting is well researched and feels true throughout, from the details of carriages and stable-hands to the fine clothes of the rich.
It’s a shame perhaps that Rosa, for all her supernatural powers, is a less feisty heroine than Anna, the star of Warburton’s Witch in Winter series, and there are no real surprises in the plot. Nonetheless this is a fast-paced, satisfying and exciting read. Unlace those stays and enjoy!