Author: Langley Hyde
Publisher: Blind Eye Books
Cover Artist: Publisher
Rating: 5 of 5 Stars
Publication Date: 05/18/2015
Length: Novel (~ 50K-100K)
Genre: Alternate Universe/Alternate World, Fantasy, M/M Romance, Steampunk
Born to privilege, gifted in languages and spells, Neil Franklin has planned his brilliant future—from academic accolades to a proper marriage—and is intent upon upholding his family name and honor. The sudden death of his parents shatters all of that, leaving Neil and his younger sister beggared and orphaned.
When Neil’s estranged uncle offers him a bargain that will save him and his sister from debtor’s prison or exile, Neil eagerly agrees. Handing over the family grimoire as collateral for their debt, Neil devotes himself to working as a teacher for wayward youths at a charity school high in the clouds.
But Highfell Hall is not the charity Neil imagines it to be and the young men there aren’t training for the dull lives of city clerks. Amidst the roaring engines and within the icy stone halls, machinations and curious devices are at work. And one man, the rough and enigmatic Leofa, holds the key to the desire that Neil has fled from all his life and a magic as dangerous as treason.
Steampunk has a strong affinity with Dickens. Surely the setting of this novel, in a fictional but oh-so-British city called Herrow, just oozes Dickens from every literary pore. But in the steampunk world there is wonderful technology (think H.G. Wells, from the end of the 19th century); and in Langley Hyde’s vision there is magic, and love between men.
So, what’s not to like?
Young Lord Cornelius Franklin arrives at Highfell, bereft of his parents, who are dead, and his sister, who has gone to live with his rich step-uncle, Lord Franklin. With everything gone but his title, Neil takes a position at the charity school founded by Lord Franklin, all wide-eyed at his luck at being able to teach malleable young minds. But, what he finds is nothing like the elegant, rich schools he attended farther up in the aether. Literally and symbolically, Highfell is beneath them. Ever since I opened the first Harry Potter novel in my late thirties, I’ve been hooked on the idea of a world where magic is part of reality. Hyde’s world is analogous to our own, but magic is literally in the ether, and it is the ether (spelled anglophonically as aether) that powers the technology that makes Highfell Hall possible. Highfell is a school, boatlike in form, that floats on the aether high above the city of Herrow on the river Wyrd. There is magic at Highfell, as there is at every aetherium academy up in the sky.
But Highfell Hall is not Hogwarts; it is a dark, nasty, cruel place snatched from the pages of Oliver Twist or David Copperfield. It is the anti-Hogwarts. Hyde’s narrative is rich in carefully imagined detail, giving us a full-on experience of what this crypto-Victorian world is like. But, more importantly I think, she makes the characters live on the page. Neil Franklin could have been a prig and a snob; but instead his heart opens to the desperate boys trapped at Highfell and he becomes their mentor and their protector. His initial response to the appearance of Leo – Leofa Blackwater—is every bit as snobbish and class-driven as one might expect. But Neil soon recognizes where Leofa fits into Highfell, and becomes his ally and his friend.
As is also the case with Dickens, every character, great and small, is painted in full color, and given as much detail as they need to be part of the great picture created by the author. The plot is complicated and full of action, but Hyde manages to produce a cinematic clarity that keeps things moving and prevents the surprises and off-page machinations from confusing us.
Everyone who’s read romances involving magic knows what a grimoire is, but even if this is your first such novel, you’ll understand soon enough. “Highfell Grimoires” is a captivating, romantic and fully engaging novel, and a masterpiece of the steampunk genre.
I would like to thank the publisher for providing me with the eARC of this title in exchange for my honest opinion.
I have a number of paperbacks, most of which are signed, to giveaway. Over the between now (11 Mar 2017) and 31 Mar 2017, every comment on the blog (this post and all other new posts), will be entered to win 1 of these paperbacks. There are also some misc swag items, so there will be a few packs of these to give away as well.
Thank you so much for your support over the last 4 years. Prism will be closing its doors on 1 April 2017. All content will remain available, but no new content will appear after 31 Mar 2017. As such all request forms have been turned off. Again Thank you,
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