The Whitechapel Demon by Josh Reynolds – Review [Lord of the Night]
Lord of the Night reviews the first Royal Occultist novel The Whitechapel Demon by Josh Reynolds.
“A delightfully British supernatural adventure that sucked me in with a pair of wonderful characters and a complex and fascinating system of magic and the occult, and left me wanting more.” – Lord of the Night @ The Founding Fields
The Whitechapel Demon is my first experience of Josh Reynolds outside of Black Library and it’s confirmed to me that the man definitely produces great work when left to his own devices. The Royal Occultist series strikes me as in the same vein as the Vampire Hunter D books I am fond of, single story adventures that are self-contained and focus more on interesting single stories than an overarching plot, which sometimes is a welcome change of pace from the many thousands of multi-book series that require you to have read each and every one so that you won’t be lost.
The year is 1921 and there is a monster loose in London. Blood has been spilt in the garrets of Whitechapel and the culprit is not of this world, nor any world you would have ever heard of. It’s up to the Royal Occultist Charles St. Cyprian and his “assistant” Ebe Gallowglass to stop the monster known as the Ripper before it can destroy those who dared to call it into our world, but with a nosy Ministry trying to track their every move and a cult of half-mad half-incompetent murder-groupies trying to use the Ripper for their own ends, the case of the Whitechapel Demon may be the last that St. Cyprian and Gallowglass undertake.
The story in TWD starts off nice and easy, explaining to the audience exactly what the Royal Occultist is and showing the protagonists in action so that we can get a sense of their characters, which Reynolds establishes very quickly. He doesn’t waste any time getting into the meat of the main story, which was very interesting providing enough to tell this story and to hint at material for a future book. One thing that I really appreciated was that Reynolds kept the story tight and focused on business, only a handful of segments and chapters were from another POV besides St. Cyprian and all of them advanced the plot in a good way. I also get the feeling that there were links and references to the numerous short stories that Reynolds has written about the Royal Occultist, but not having read them they would have gone over my head sadly, but for those who have read them I think that the callbacks to previous adventures would be a nice Easter egg for devoted readers.
The characters in my opinion were the best part of the story, at around 170 pages it’s more a novella than a full novel and without a compelling cast it could feel like a book without enough pages to really shine. Fortunately the duo of St. Cyprian and Gallowglass was fun to read on every page, Cyprian’s witty and very British attitude contrasting nicely and at the same time working well with Gallowglass’ cruder and more violent personality, though mixed with enough humour that she comes off as merely surly rather than psychotic. The banter between the two of them had me laughing quite a lot, and I very much liked the deeper elements to their characters, St. Cyprian’s traumatic war experiences and Gallowglass’ childhood hint at much more to be explored with these characters and I look forward to seeing more of them. I also very much liked the Ripper who came off as suitably inhuman yet also a little funny at certain scenes, and frankly looked absolutely badass, at least the way I pictured him.
The action scenes were nicely written, choreographed well enough that I was never confused by what was happening, and with one or two scenes that were very memorable (I am thinking of the race to the final battle with the Ripper in particular.) The Ripper definitely felt like an opponent that would take far more than brute force to stop, a bit like a slasher movie with a killer who just won’t stay down only much better done. The magic system in the book was also very interesting, a mix between the in-depth hermeticism type magic and the quick-cast magic that is so popular in fantasy these days, I did like that the magic could be used to help but was not a quick-fix solution and that it could only help them in battle so far, it couldn’t win their battles for them but it could help them win.
The pacing of the book was nicely done, it’s not a long read but I never felt bored at any point during the book and Reynolds knew exactly when to add some humour into a scene to keep it from being boring, or when to switch to another POV where something exciting was happening rather than stick with the protagonists when they weren’t doing anything interesting or amusing. This is definitely the kind of book that a reader can sit down with and expect an enjoyable and easy time with, rather than a long investment of many days, an ideal book for a free afternoon or a weekend.
My favourite quote is definitely this one, I strongly suspect it is a reference to an urban fantasy series that I am a HUGE fan of but I can’t be sure, either way it’s awesome;
“Come on and have a go if you think you’re hard enough.”
The ending was a good one, it wrapped up the story nicely while addressing that not everything was solved and that what happened here may have greater ramifications down the line, and pointed the pair of St. Cyprian and Gallowglass towards their next adventure, which the book provided an extract of, always a nice finishing touch. I really liked how the Ripper problem was solved, an appropriate ending for him, and I liked that one or two little mysteries were pointed out at the end that hopefully will be solved in a future adventure.
So for a good story with characters that I really enjoyed reading about I give The Whitechapel Demon a score of 7.6/10. This is a novel that I think any fan of supernatural genres can enjoy, it’s a nice period urban fantasy that really does feel like Post-Great War London and the mythos in the universe is deep and interesting to hear about on it’s own. I will definitely be returning to the series when the second book, titled The Jade Suit of Death, is released this year, and I also hope that at some point Mr Reynolds will gather all those short stories he’s written and see that an anthology is published. I would recommend this series to any fan of urban fantasy, it’s well worth a try.
That’s it for this review, thanks for reading and thank you to Josh Reynolds for being kind enough to supply me with a review copy and to sign it to me as well. Until next time,
AVE DOMINUS NOX!