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A novel of Caligula's Rome

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Book Review: Andrew Taylor's THE ASHES OF LONDON

February 15, 2017 | from Sherry Christie's blog

This terrific novel takes place during and after the Great Fire of London in 1666, early in the reign of Charles II. It's told by young James Marwood, a government clerk who is the sole support of his now-doddery father, once a vocal critic of the Restoration. Joining a crowd of onlookers as flames consume St. Paul's Cathedral, Marwood restrains a desperate boy who tries to rush into the burning church—only to discover that the boy is a young woman in disguise. We meet her separately a few chapters later: she's heiress Cat Lovett, whose own father vanished after being implicated in the murder of Charles I, leaving her a ward of her aunt and step-uncle Alderley. Cat's reluctance to marry an elderly nobleman turns to desperation when she is attacked by her vile cousin Edward, and she flees into London's seedy underbelly. In the meantime, Marwood begins investigating murders that may have dangerous links to his father's former anti-royal comrades.

Taylor does a wonderful job of bringing post-fire London to life with all its sights and smells. The unconventional Cat, who yearns to be an architect, and James Marwood, who becomes innocently entangled in some very dark doings, are sympathetic protagonists. Highly enjoyable.

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