NB—I received a free copy of this book via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review
With a murderer on the loose, it’s up to an enlightened bodysnatcher and a rebellious princess to save the city, in this wonderfully inventive Victorian-tinged fantasy noir.
“Man of Science” Roger Weathersby scrapes out a risky living digging up corpses for medical schools. When he’s framed for the murder of one of his cadavers, he’s forced to trust in the superstitions he’s always rejected: his former friend, princess Sibylla, offers to commute Roger’s execution in a blood magic ritual which will bind him to her forever. With little choice, he finds himself indentured to Sibylla and propelled into an investigation. There’s a murderer loose in the city of Caligo, and the duo must navigate science and sorcery, palace intrigue and dank boneyards to catch the butcher before the killings tear their whole country apart.
I enjoyed this book, though the reasons for this are not the ones I expected after reading the blurb. I expected more of an action-packed, reluctant detective, unlikely duo adventure; instead, The Resurrectionist of Caligo is a story of a man born into a low class of society struggling to do good and better himself, all while fighting against institutionalised obstacles and well-meaning but controlling loved ones from his past. Like I said, it’s still something I enjoyed, but not what I expected when I began reading.
The world building in this novel could be stronger, very few of the differences that set The Resurrectionist if Caligo apart from any other vaguely Victorian novel were explored in any true depth. I’d love to see a greater explanation of the religious structure within the world, and the way the ruling classes use, train and discover their magic. That being said, the medical and penal systems of the world were quite interesting, the Straybound in particular were an interesting touch.
This book was full of interesting characters, though Ada may be among my favourites. Her scrappy determination and refusal to back down in the face of danger are admirable, and I was glad that she seems likely to remain significant in any future books. Sibylla was also a refreshing character, it was great to see a female character who is unashamedly sensual, and isn’t punished for it. She’s quick on her feet and independent, while remaining flawed and believable as a young, sheltered woman. Her relationship with her family is truly interesting, and I hope to see more interplay between Sibylla, Dorinda and Sibylla’s extended family.
Roger was less likeable than I would have preferred, and at times he seemed insufficiently motivated for the actions he took. I was at times confused by his character, and I feel he could have been given more of a backstory or even more friends or associates that would have revealed his interests and personality traits. By the end of the novel, though, Roger is certainly more clearly drawn; so perhaps this book was just somewhat of a coming of age novel for Roger, and his personality was left purposely vague at the beginning of the novel.
Roger’s relationship with Harrod was entertaining and one of the most believable relationships in the book (at least for me). Their constant bickering, Harrod’s domineering concern and Roger’s surly anger were well-written and effective. Though with the focus on Roger as the book’s protagonist, I do feel Harrod was left a little underdeveloped. Perhaps an exploration of Harrod’s history in the Navy could be a way to deepen his character, as I feel he remained somewhat two dimensional in this novel.
The plot of The Resurrectionist of Caligo is involved and interesting, but unravels unevenly, with chapters dedicated to vague hints and few developments, and others where a new revelation is discovered every paragraph. Everything is tied up quite neatly at the end of the novel, but almost too neatly. I found myself wondering why certain characters were brought into the novel, as they appeared infrequently and their importance in the storyline now seems to have ended (most notably, the Lieutenant who replaced Harrod in the countryside).
The book dragged a little in the middle section, and I feel Sibylla should have made her way to the capital a little sooner. The book picks up towards the end however, with plenty of fodder for a future series. In particular, the subplot involving the ruler of a neighbouring empire in the latter half of the book promises to be very interesting.
All in all, this book was a solid enjoyable read; and promises to be the start of an engrossing series. While the overall feel was significantly darker than Gail Carriger’s Custard Protocol series, Ada was definitely reminiscent of Spoo. Readers wanting more mature plot lines but who enjoy the plucky characters of Gail Carriger’s work would most likely enjoy The Resurrectionist of Caligo. In terms of plot and overall feel, the series would probably be a better fit for readers who enjoyed AJ Hartley’s Steeplejack series (which I really need to finish reading one of these days), Diana Pharaoh Francis’s Crosspointe novels (which I have reviewed here, here, here and here), Kate Locke’s The Immortal Empire series (I should really reread that soon, it has goblins), or Charlie N Homberg’s ongoing Numina Trilogy (the first two instalments of which I have reviewed this year).
If anything you’ve read sounds appealing, keep an eye out for the book next month, The Resurrectionist of Caligo is set to release on September 10th of this year.