We’re now entering a new phase in my book reviews, one where individual books take me several days to read and Goodreads reviews are written hurriedly at 1am, while blog reviews are scheduled during periods of procrastination. Like right now. I should be writing an essay, but I don’t feel well, so here we go. That’s university for you.
I can’t remember exactly why I requested The Daemoniac from NetGalley, but I imagine it was because it sounded like the kind of magical crime novel I often enjoy, something in the same vein as Paul Cornell’s Shadow Police series. The difference is that this is historical, and set in New York — and the supernatural element remains somewhat ambiguous throughout. You could probably even make an argument for it not existing at all, although that’s a complicated one, and a spoiler. Moving swiftly on…
My first impression wasn’t entirely a positive one, because I was thrown by the link to Sherlock Holmes, which seemed a little contrived: the heroine, Harry, is Arthur Conan Doyle’s niece. Her older sister is a consulting detective, so Harry likes to think Sherlock is at least partly inspired by the two of them. Like I said, it felt a bit contrived, although at least unlike some Sherlock-related stories this maintained a certain realism by leaving Sherlock himself as a fictional character.
Once I got used to that idea, it allowed me to appreciate parallels and references to the Sherlock Holmes stories without feeling like they’d been plagiarised, but it did take a little while to get to that point.
I enjoyed the fact that despite it being a historical novel, it featured a female protagonist in an unlikely, exciting role — and while Harry may be acting illicitly, she’s doing so under her sister’s name, not a man’s. In that sense, it reminded me a bit of Philip Pullman’s Sally Lockhart mysteries, but I have to admit, I probably engaged with those more than this. That might, however, have been due to the unfamiliar setting (which always throws me off), or the fact that I read this in two shifts with a long break in between.
Because you see, I just found it a bit hard to become invested in the story. I liked the characters. The plot was suitably twisty with a few good red herrings, which I doubt I’d have caught even if I hadn’t had that long break in the middle. I enjoyed getting a glimpse at the historical context. But for some reason I found it hard to care.
I think that was mostly me, and the timing of when I read it. After all, I can identify a fair bit with Harry — I’m the youngest sibling, too, and I know what it’s like to want to prove yourself. This just caught me at a bad moment. It may also have been the writing style, because I’ve never been wild about formal, historical-style narration, and this periodically dropped into explanations and exposition that took me out of the moment. I think mostly, though, it was just me.
Since I know it concerns a few of my readers, I should probably comment on the content of the book a little. There’s very little bad language or sex (that is to say, practically nothing), but there’s a fair bit of gore and violence. Most of it’s seen retrospectively, but some of it is kind of grim. The supernatural side of things remains a bit ambiguous (is it really demonic? is it human?), but there’s enough of a creep factor that more sensitive readers might find it a bit unpleasant.
Oh, and obviously there’s a considerable amount of murder.
On the whole, this is a fairly engaging story, but I think it suffered from subjective issues like timing and personal taste. Had I read it some time other than the first week back at uni following a long break, in two late-night sessions with several days in between… well, I might have liked it a lot more. As it was, I found it okay, but didn’t entirely click with it.