Valerian, a magician in The City, made a Faustian-style pact many years ago that would reveal to him the knowledge he was after. However, such a deal always comes with a price, and Valerian’s time to avoid certain death is running out. If he is to survive until the new year, he must find a book of magic that has not been seen for generations.
Along with his apprentice, Boy, they must follow a trail set before them with the aid of Valerian’s inventor friend, Kepler. But as The Phantom roams The City, killing without warning, and Valerian’s enemies hoping he will fail, can they find the book and prevent the inevitable? And at what cost? Time is running out…
This is a young adult book where technology and magic are entwined, creating an atmospheric story full of mystery and darkness. Although this book was aimed at a younger audience, I did find the story gripping. There are dark Dickensian elements, Gothic buildings, a magician and a puzzle that needs to be solved in short order or someone will die – what’s not to love?
Boy and Willow are great characters. Both are lonely, but while Boy seems to accept what fate has dealt him, Willow questions it. It quickly becomes clear that the two are stronger together, giving each of them who have nothing in this world, something to hold on to. Whilst the story is unravelling around them, dragging them constantly into danger, Boy is struggling to understand who he is and where he comes from.
All-in-all, I found this book to be surprisingly engaging and rich in dark description. The City is an interesting place, full of interesting characters and reminiscent of many Victorian cities.
As I already had book two in the series (The Dark Flight Down) about the house, I started reading it as soon as I finished this one so that I could find out what happens next to Boy and Willow.