Savage Magic does stand alone as a novel, but if you were intending to read the earlier Horton books, there might be tiny little spoilers in the pages. Abigail’s situation also refers directly to an event at the end of The Poisoned Island.
London, 1814: A young, well-off man is found slaughtered in his bed, behind locked doors with no sign of entry. He wears a satyr mask. When a second man is found under similar circumstances, Bow Street magistrate Aaron Graham, makes the connection and starts his own investigation. For he sent Constable Charles Horton to the country, to investigate accusations of witchcraft from the house where his wife and daughter now reside.
Another atmospheric, historical tale from Lloyd Shepherd set against an oppressive backdrop of a less than savoury London. In addition to the witchcraft angle, we see in the innards of Brooke House a (once real) private lunatic asylum, which gave those with money a slightly more pleasant option than Bethlem. It’s also around the time mesmerism (better known now as hypnotism) was being experimented with. The fictional doctor of this tale has his own take on mind control and it all fits together, from the decadent streets of London to the docks that Horton knows best.
1814 was a tough time for women. Whilst prostitution has been something women throughout history have been driven in to when times are tough, it’s something that seemed rife in this period. Lose your job and there’s no back-up plan, even if there’s a husband in the household. Add to that, society’s perception of women as lesser in mind and ability, you’ll be feeling fortunate to live in the here and now.
Savage Magic contains several interesting female characters, especially considering when it is set. First off, Abigail Horton gets a lot more page space in this instalment. At the start of the book, she is driven to the doors of a mental asylum, following that fateful cup of tea in The Poisoned Island. It is her own choice to commit herself, which perhaps shows she’s not crazy at all, but the mad-doctors of the time wouldn’t consider that. I loved how the psychiatric doctors of the time were called mad-doctors, like they’re the ones that need treatment. Maybe by today’s standards, they are the mad ones.
What was an overheard voice from a madwoman’s cell when there was only a madwoman there to hear it?
We also hear a little of female convicts who were sent to Australia, one of which ran a successful farm, and of course was viewed with suspicion by most her male neighbours. Mrs Graham is a married woman living in sin with a man who is not her husband, and whilst society disapproves, it doesn’t seem to weigh on her mind at all.
Despite being set in a time where accusations of witchcraft was illegal, the government states there is no such thing as witches, it is all too easy to see how a woman acting beyond what was expected could lead to such rumours. It was a period of great change and whilst some shed their more supernatural beliefs many, especially in rural areas, would rather blame a woman for their woes than just bad luck. There’s always someone who will serve as scapegoat.
Savage Magic is published by Simon & Schuster and is available in hardback and ebook editions from 28th August 2014. Thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy for review.
Disclosure: I received a copy of this book free of charge for review purposes only. Receipt of a book does not guarantee a review or endorsement. My reviews are my honest opinion and are not biased for the purpose of personal gain.