Friday 26 March 2010

Review: The Eleventh Plague by Darren Craske

Picking up where The Equivoque Principle left off, The Eleventh Plague sees Cornelius Quaint embark on his most perilous adventure yet. Bidding an emotional farewell to Dr Marvello’s Travelling Circus, Quaint leaves for Egypt with only fortune-teller Madame Destine by his side. Once in the land of the pyramids they must do battle with desert thieves, unearth long-buried secrets and attempt to foil the villainous Hades Consortium's plans to poison the River Nile. With a whole new cast of characters this is a ripping Victorian adventure story featuring Cornelius Quaint - part Sherlock Holmes, part Indiana Jones, part Harry Houdini.

The Eleventh Plague is the second book in a series of books featuring conjuror and all-round adventurer Cornelius Quaint. In The Equivoque Principle Cornelius found himself drawn into an evil organisation's dastardly plot to poison London's water supply. Although the story started off as a quest to clear the name of a friend accused of murder that first book was not a traditional mystery story but more of an adventures story set in Victorian London. I really enjoyed The Equivoque Principle and so I was really chuffed when Darren Craske asked if I wanted a copy of the sequel to review.

The Equivoque Principle garnered a number of negative reviews, and a little unfairly so in my opinion. Some reviewers criticised it heavily for not portraying an accurate enough picture of its Victorian settings. I can understand why some readers may have been a little disappointed as fans of historical mystery and adventure stories have been spoiled with choice over recent years due to the huge number of outstanding books in this genre that have been released. Mr Craske's answer to these critics can be found on his blog, and I hope he doesn't object to me printing excerpts from it here:

"Due to its plot and setting, EQUIVOQUE got grouped with other books in the Victorian detective thriller genre, whether they might be Glass Books of the Dream Eaters, the Erast Fandorin books, or the Lucifer Box books. That’s fine. Being labelled like that helps the retailers and publishers categorise the book, and so making it easier to market and promote. But I never intended to write Victorian fiction. I intended to write a story which happened to be set in the Victorian era, and although you might think they’re one and the same, to me as the originator of the story, they are not."

Anyway... onto The Eleventh Plague. This story takes Cornelius away from London within the first few chapters, as he sets out in an attempt to again foil the plans of the Hades Consortium. Having discovered that this evil league now plan to kill millions by poisoning the Nile and the fertile land bordering it he sets sail for Egypt, leaving the grime of Victorian London behind him. This time there is no troupe of circus performers to aid him, only his lifelong friend and confidant, the clairvoyant Madame Destine. Fans of The Equivoque Principle will not long mourn the absence of the colourful characters from that book as Mr Craske provides us with a host of new combatants. The villains in this sequel are particularly ruthless, but as in all of the classic hierarchical villainous organisations they also fear their superiors, never knowing if the smallest of failures may lead to them sharing a similar fate to that intended for their enemies. The author also uses this book to further develop the characters of Cornelius and Madame Destine, this time in isloation from each other as they spend most of the story apart.

Cornelius Quaint, although a heroic force for good, is also deeply flawed. He is arrogant and often bad-tempered, leaving his fellow adventurers to question his motives on a number of occasions. He also has a habit of drawing those he loves into the most life-threatening of situations. However, this does lend itself well to the adventurous nature of the story, providing the reader with a non-stop thrilling ride laced with cliffhangers aplenty. Unfortunately though I was left with the feeling that there may just be one or two cliffhangers too many. Mr Craske relies very much on the concept set up in the first book that Quaint is a conjuror and as such can pretty much get out of any situation. Chance plays a huge part in this as well, almost bordering on deus ex machina in places; some readers may not look favourably on this, yet it is a storytelling technique typical of the Victorian Penny Dreadfuls that may have partly inspired the first book in this series.

Like the first book in this series from Darren Craske I found The Eleventh Plague to be a hugely enjoyable adventure romp in the tradition of the Boys' Own stories that will appeal to older boys ready to move on to more adult material. It is published by The Friday Project, an imprint of HarperCollins, and is available in stores right now. The next book in the series, entitled The Lazarus Curse, promises us Chinese warlords, scurrilous villains, courageous outlaws, ancient prophecies and more boisterous comedy. More secrets of the past come back to shake the foundations of everything that Cornelius Quaint holds dear to him...... and I, for one, am really looking forward to reading it when it is eventually published, although I may have to wait until 2011 for this.

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