Fantasy Mystery Romance Comics Non-Fiction

A Sanctuary for Soulden

Sunday, March 6, 2022

A Sanctuary for Soulden (2021) J.A. Rock and Lisa Henry (The Lords of Bucknall Club)

A Sanctuary for SouldenSet in an alternate England in the early 1800s.

Philip Winthrop, Viscount Soulden is easily bored. But you wouldn’t guess that if you saw him out on the town, where he presents himself as a fop, concerned with little other than clothes and games, to cover his secret work in intelligence.

“You are a rake and a cad, sir!” Soulden sipped his port. “You are not the first to mention it, it’s true, so there may be something in it.

Edmund Fernside is a surgeon who does his best to learn from the dead to save the living. To do that he must have dead bodies, which he tries to source as ethically as possible.

He is more than a little surprised when one of those bodies sits up and tries to leave.

Important note: the description makes the story sound light and fluffy.

Philip Winthrop, Viscount Soulden, is a fop. An idle popinjay with nothing more on his mind than how to best knot his cravat. He definitely doesn’t spy against the French. Or arrange hasty weddings. Or occasionally commandeer the navy. And he certainly doesn’t seek out mortal danger in order to combat his pervasive ennui. It’s all just a big misunderstanding when he’s shot by a French intelligence officer during a merry riverside chase.

This book is many things, but light and fluffy it is not.

Philip throws himself into danger in order to distract himself from the past, which is full of blood and loss and grief.

“My father wears a set of false teeth. Expensive things, wondrously made. Do you know what they call them? Waterloo teeth. I asked him once if he ever wondered if it was my brother’s teeth rattling around in his skull now.”

Fernside may present himself as a misanthrope, but (like Lord Christmas) he does so to hide that he does care about the world and those who populate it.

Fernside drew a long breath. “After Waterloo, there were so many injured. So many men who desperately needed medical treatment. And there were not enough doctors, not enough by half. Medical students did not have enough cadavers on which to learn. I saw many things that summer, and beyond, that I shall never unsee.”

So: dark, with damaged characters, and a mystery: my favorite!

As with the previous book, the only fantastical element about this story is that it’s an alternate history where same-sex marriages were legalized to help preserve the wealth of the ruling class. The mystery was interesting, the characters were both deeply damaged by their pasts, but still try to better the world, in their own ways.

Rating: 8/10


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