Mercenaries in lace and steel roam the countryside and the heads of criminals are impaled on London Bridge. The characters' relationships are played out in the shadow of the hangman's rope. Sequel to Rats and Gargoyles.
Gentle follows her baroque fantasy Rats and Gargoyles with this semi-sequel, featuring two of the previous novel's characters in a far different milieu. The White Crow, aka Valentine, Master Physician of the Invisible College, and her husband, the Lord-Architect Casaubon--both masters of alchemical magics--have retired to the White Crow's estates outside of London. This alternate 17th-century England evokes that of Cromwell's Protectorate, with a few playful changes; here the monarch (Queen rather than King) remains alive, a rallying point for the royalists, and the Protector is a woman as well, General Olivia. The occasional historical figure appears (for example, the anatomist William Harvey) as the White Crow and Casaubon find themselves unwillingly drawn into the intrigues between the two factions. An old friend, Pollexfen Calmady, brings Casaubon to the city to help build a temple--``the eye of the sun''--for the Protector, while a puritan woman, Desire-of-the-Lord Guillaime, induces the White Crow to help in a scheme to encourage the Queen to go into exile. But when Calmady rapes Desire in the White Crow's home, events begin to spiral toward catastrophe. Where the previous novel was at times too complicated and over long, this one errs on the other side, sometimes feeling compressed, its turns of plot underrationalized. But Gentle's witty prose and the unusual and intriguing atmosphere of her world more than compensate.