“From the No.1 best-selling author of The American Boy and The Silent Boy comes a brand new historical thriller set during the time of the Great Fire of London. The first of an exciting new series of novels.

London, September 1666.

The Great Fire rages through the city, consuming everything in its path. Even the impregnable cathedral of St. Paul’s is engulfed in flames and reduced to ruins. Among the crowds watching its destruction is James Marwood, son of a disgraced printer, and reluctant government informer.

“In the aftermath of the fire, a semi-mummified body is discovered in the ashes of St. Paul’s, in a tomb that should have been empty. The man’s body has been mutilated and his thumbs have been tied behind his back.

“Under orders from the government, Marwood is tasked with hunting down the killer across the devastated city. But at a time of dangerous internal dissent and the threat of foreign invasion, Marwood finds his investigation leads him into treacherous waters – and across the path of a determined, beautiful and vengeful young woman.”

As a fan of historical novels, especially those based in real events, I was excited to be given an Netgalley ARC of ‘The Ashes of London’ before the release of the sequel – ‘The Fire Court’.

Set during and after the Great Fire of London in 1666, this book promised to be a rip-roaring read. While St Paul’s is still a smoldering wreck, the body of a man is discovered and upon further inspection, he’s not a victim of the fire. He’s been stabbed and his thumbs tied behind his back. He is also wearing the livery worn by the servants in the household of Henry Alderley – an Alderman and goldsmith, popular with the money-lending rich of London, including King Charles. Scandal is not something to be expected in these circles and could cause great embarrassment if not dealt with quickly and effectively.

Not too far away, Catherine ‘Cat’ Lovett is residing at the home of her Uncle – the very same Henry Alderley. Cat has ended up here as her father is a wanted man – still at large, he is wanted for his direct involvement in the Regicide of King Charles I. In a canny business transaction for grasping, greedy Uncle Henry, Cat has been promised to an older man, whom unsurprisingly, she cannot bear. She is desperately trying to find a way out of her situation when her creepy cousin Edward assaults her. Shortly afterwards, Cat escapes from the Alderley home, leaving Edward stabbed in the eye, and his lodgings burnt down. Never cross a gentlewoman, eh? She goes to ground, finding work as a housemaid in return for a roof over her head, and tries (unsuccessfully) to stay out of mischief.

Onto James Marwood. James is the son of Richard Marwood – traitorous supporter of the Cromwellian cause, however thanks to his son’s efforts he has been pardoned by the King as long as he stays outside of the London area. In order to care for Richard, who is ailing mentally, James takes a job as a clerk for Master Williamson – a successful and popular editor and publisher with a finger in many interesting pies. Master Williamson calls upon James to help him work out who killed the Alderley employee found in the ruins of St Paul’s. When another body linked to the wealthy goldsmith is found not long afterwards, again with the thumbs tied together, James starts to investigate further, ideas forming about who the killer may be.

James and Cat come into contact with each other very early on in and teeth and sparks fly. As we go through the book, they circle each other’s orbit until eventually meeting again, with interesting results.

I enjoyed the descriptive elements of this book – I felt Andrew Taylor really drew out the detail of 1666 London, and successfully conveyed the fear and frustration that ‘normal’ people suffered every day at the hands of those in power – both Cat and James went through elements of this in their character arc, although Cat’s was much more severe.

I didn’t really like the characters much – although James appealed to me more than Cat, not sure why – I liked that Cat did what she had to to get by, and wasn’t ‘prettied’ up because she was a female.

Although the narrative was well paced and drew me in for the first half or so, it didn’t really have enough focus on the story development or the mystery surrounding murders. It sped up towards the end, but I felt it was a bit too late by then. I also felt that there was something lacking in the form of a story although as this is to be a series, it may well be that this first book is an excellent introduction to Marwood & Lovett, and we will see the story focus develop through the 2nd installment – and I do hope that is the case.