Review. Brian Ruckley, The Edinburgh Dead

When we talk about how good or bad a certain book is, we mostly talk about plotlines and/or –holes and how the characters were. Not surprising, though, seeing as they are what the book’s about. There is, however, another important aspect to a good story, being the worldbuilding and how the scenery of the story translates into the reader’s mind. The worldbuilding might not put me off a book, but it certainly holds the possibility of taking the book to another level. Most of the books I read take place in a secondary world – own imagination galore – and most of the urban fantasy I read takes place in some random American city and, from my point of view, might as have been just another secondary world. However, when I stumble upon a book that takes place in a city I have visited – and loved, for that matter – the book appeals to me even more. Brian Ruckley’s The Edinburgh Dead falls in the latter category.

Edinburgh: 1828
In the starkly-lit operating theaters of the city, grisly experiments are being carried out on corpses in the name of medical science. But elsewhere, there are those experimenting with more sinister forces. Amongst the crowded, sprawling tenements of the labyrinthine Old Town, a body is found, its neck torn to pieces. Charged with investigating the murder is Adam Quire, Officer of the newly- formed Edinburgh Police. The trail will lead him into the deepest reaches of the city’s criminal underclass, and to the highest echelons of the filthy rich.
Soon Quire will discover that a darkness is crawling through this city of enlightenment – and no one is safe from its corruption.

I’m not big on historical novels, but when it draws upon an interesting part of history it might just do the trick for me, as is the case with this book. The bodysnatching past of Edinburgh is one of those little fragments of history I find quite fascinating and this, combined with an interesting take on zombies, made this book a more than pleasant affair. The first half of the novel is kind of like your average historical mystery novel, with a murder to be solved, the brave policeman trying his utmost best despite the not too willing help from the higher class. Nothing wrong with that, but things get really interesting when the zombies are introduced. Ruckley has an interesting take on the mainstream brainmunchers and made them fit the setting very well. Perhaps zombies is a wrong turn, and is reanimated corpse more adequate.
take on the mainstream brainmunchers
I felt like, from that moment on, when it became apparent what was going on, the story took a turn for the darker. Even though the living dead are present, other magics stay pretty much out of the picture with some notable exceptions. This general lack of magic in society and the referring to it as the arcane, adds a certain mystery and unreachability to it all, which I found to be very pleasing. As far as the development of the plot is concerned, I think Ruckley did a very fine job of bringing things to a close. My only remark concerning the plot would be the chapter about the war. I found this flashback to be unnecessary and it didn’t really contribute anything to the story nor the character of Quire. Well, it did give him some background, but it might have well been added in smaller flashbacks throughout the main story whenever necessary.
Talking about Quire, I found him to be quite a capable main character. He’s no goody two shoes and does flirt with the edge of what’s accepted and expected from him, but it gives him a certain edge. The only thing I’ve missed from him, is a distinctive voice. While reading the book, he did the job as main character, but in the mass of other characters in my head, he’s not one to stick out like other characters from other books do.
the edge of what’s accepted and expected
Whereas Quire is quite the likeable lad, the other characters who take the spotlight for sufficient amount of pages to allow a development of feelings, certainly are anything but likeable. One in particular, Blegg, is downright creepy and he gave the group of adversaries a certain punch they needed to become believable as antagonists.
My overall opinion of this book is very much favourable but not outstanding, and that counts for the writing as well. I thought Brian Ruckley had a very nice way of writing, although it took me some time to pick up the pacing of the novel. For me, it was definitely not a fast read and the writing style did contribute to that. Whether or not that’s a con, is something every reader has to decide for him or herself, but I didn’t really mind. Ruckley has a very nice way of telling the story and in that prospect, it’s rather a pro that I had to take my time to take it all in.

Having been to Edingburgh, the experience there blended nicely with the way Brian Ruckley described Old Town and New Town and heightened the atmosphere. I doubt you’ll get the same vibe from Quire walking the different closes of Old Town and the open lanes of New Town if you haven’t experienced the vast contrast for yourself, but you can always give it a try. And heck, why not do both? Cause Edinburgh as well as The Edinburgh Dead are worth your time. This might not be a book that will stick with you, but if you like a historical novel with a Fantasy twist, you might want to give this a try.

★ ★ ★


Snatch your Scottish zombie here.

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