Book Review: Undying Legion

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Book: Undying Legion
Series: Crown and Key series, Book 2
Author: Clay and Susan Griffin
Genres: fantasy, steampunk, Neo-Victorian, Gothic horror, adventure

Synopsis (from Amazon book page):

“A thrilling new Victorian-era urban fantasy for fans of Kevin Hearne’s Iron Druid Chronicles, the Showtime series Penny Dreadful, and the Sherlock Holmes movies featuring Robert Downey, Jr.

With a flood of dark magic about to engulf Victorian London, can a handful of heroes vanquish a legion of the undead?

When monster-hunter Malcolm MacFarlane comes across the gruesome aftermath of a ritual murder in a London church, he enlists the help of magician-scribe Simon Archer and alchemist extraordinaire Kate Anstruther. Studying the macabre scene, they struggle to understand obscure clues in the ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics carved into the victim’s heart—as well as bizarre mystical allusions to the romantic poetry of William Blake. One thing is clear: Some very potent black magic is at work.

But this human sacrifice is only the first in a series of ritualized slayings. Desperate to save lives while there is still time, Simon, Kate, and Malcolm—along with gadget geek Penny Carter and Charlotte, an adolescent werewolf—track down a necromancer who is reanimating the deceased. As the team battles an unrelenting army of undead, a powerful Egyptian mummy, and serpentine demons, the necromancer proves an elusive quarry. And when the true purpose of the ritual is revealed, the gifted allies must confront a destructive force that is positively apocalyptic.”

Notes of Interest:

This is the second book in the Shadow Revolution series. The first is Crown and Key, which I reviewed here: https://badcatink.wordpress.com/2016/08/12/book-review-crown-and-key/ .

The fact that I’ve returned for the second book tells you how much I liked the first one. As I stated in the previous review, I chose to read this series because of how much I enjoyed the Vampire Empire series by the Griffins. The second book in this series was exactly what I hoped it would be, so the Griffiths are quickly moving up my list of “go-to” authors when I have a literary itch to scratch.

What could have made it better for me:

As with the previous book in this series, there was nothing of note that pulled me out of the story. All the basics I look for when considering “stars” to award were there: good technical work on grammar and elements of composition, well-developed “living” characters, no plot holes or burdens in style that damage the ability to suspend disbelief, etc. So, I present this book free of warning labels. 🙂

What I liked about it:

Characterization is really well-put together for this unusual bunch. A druid, an alchemist, a hunter, an artificer/ inventor, and a werewolf … take on a necromancer, zombies, a cult, and a demon goddess. Aside from each character’s distinct personalities and contributions to the cause, there is also a growing number of noteworthy tertiary characters … like Imogen, the sister of Kate, who was the victim of a mad scientist’s experiments gone horribly wrong in the last book. These characters have enough fantasy-team archetype to feel familiar, but are unique enough in their own right to feel fresh.

I found the action scenes well-choreographed and “just right” in terms of how much or how often to offer encounters of physical conflict. I mention this because I’m currently reading a book in which the plot points seem to be nothing but one fight after another, but as much as I love adventure and action in stories, it’s too much. Perhaps it’s the difference between action and fantasy genres, but it serves as a reminder to appreciate stories like Undying Legion, which are stories with encounters, rather than it being a story about encounters. The goal, of course, is to stop the necromancer, but its a multifaceted plot connected to a handful of subplots that tie everything together … which, in my opinion, almost always creates a more complex and more interesting tale. Consistency in the plots between the first and second books is carried over well, too.

As always with the Griffins, I appreciate their style in word use and description. I often find myself looking up words I didn’t know to add to my own vocabulary, but without getting bogged down. The story flow is vivid and a good blend of imagination, action, horror, and comedy.

In my last review, I expressed how much I really liked their concept of Victorian druidism. I found it to be unique and interesting. So in this book I was pleased to see how they expanded on that concept, to explain in a little more detail how Simon’s magic works in their alternate history of the world. And yet they’ve explained it in a way that it blends seamlessly with the Victorian era obsession with the occult (opium dens, magicians, ancient Egypt, old gods, spirits of the dead, etc.) and popularity of poetry and painting. Personally, I love it when stories do this kind of thing, so this is all right up my alley. I’m always eager to enjoy these kinds of settings, more so when they are well done. And as for the elements of horror, the atmosphere in these books still embodies the penny dreadful “feel” that I expect when I pick up a book like this.

Without giving too much away regarding spoilers, I have to say I like the twist at the end regarding the necromancer’s character and objective. I won’t say it was a complete surprise because I picked up on the foreshadowing dropped here and there, but it was a nice monkey wrench in the usual outcome for a “get the bad guy” type of plot. I like books that offer antagonists where there’s more to them than meets the eye.

Recommendation:

I absolutely recommend the first two books in this series, if you are into this kind of literature. I will definitely be purchasing the third book in the series. The way the book ended changed several major attributes about the characters and the setting, so I’m very curious to see what happens now that some game changers have taken place. And I look forward to seeing how the previous incarnations of trouble will coalesce into this new and present evil that the increasingly close-knit “misfit” protagonists will have to face.

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