All Isaac Barrow wants is to be left alone to pursue his supernatural research and tinker with his inventions. But when you’re the only technomancer openly practicing the craft in 1880s Halifax, trouble has a way of finding you. When a routine mechanical service call reveals the grisly handiwork of the Nightshade Cabal – an underground cult of necromancers – Barrow finds himself in a race against time to put a stop to the Cabal’s depredations before they can kill anyone else and turn them into… office machinery?
Then there’s the mystery of Emily Skye, a missing teenager with strange abilities of her own. Believing her disappearance to be connected to the Nightshade Cabal, Barrow agrees to help track down the missing girl. But even if he can find her, will Miss Skye aid him in his struggle against the Cabal? Or might she turn out to be the deadliest threat of all?
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The lure of the forbidden is a powerful thing.
The Nightshade Cabal is a thrilling and highly inventive debut from author Chris Patrick Carolan. An adventure laced in mystery and menace, we follow breadcrumbs leading from one grisly discovery to the next, keeping readers on their toes until the very end. At its heart, it’s a tale of the lengths one is willing to go in order to protect those they love, and also of the consequences of attempting to play God in any capacity. It also highlights the power of companionship, and the importance of placing your trust in others when all seems lost. This was an impressive debut that I thoroughly enjoyed, and I’m excited to see where Carolan takes us next.
This is an exceptionally immersive story set in Halifax, Nova Scotia in the year of 1881, which personally played out as a movie as I thumbed through the pages. With a seamless blend of steampunk, magical realism, and Victorian gothic flavors, the world Carolan crafts around us is one that feels incredibly real, yet imbued with the unexpected fantastical – I’m talking necromancers, fairies, and demons, oh my! His ability to create this alternate history, yet keep it relatable is just astounding. Replete with time-accurate vocabulary and salutations, innovative technology, and mystery that feels as if it has been plucked from yesteryear makes for one engrossing tale.
In addition to the rich worldbuilding, the characters that take center stage are also amazingly developed. Isaac Barrow, a technomancer with a hunger for the unknown, and a seeker of truth and equality. While he claims he wants to be left to his own devices, he works awfully hard to rid the world of those who have the capacity for magic and use it for harmful purposes. Miss Emily Sky, a young woman wanting to right the wrongs she’s witnessed, hoping to find herself and her intended path in the process. Simply put, she’s a badass. Inspector Jonathan Eddings, commanding officer of the Halifax Constabulary, willing to accept aid and guidance from the strangest of sources, laws be damned. The dynamics between these characters are so fluid and organic, ripe with friendly banter and genuine concern, it was such a pleasure getting to know them.
There are villains. Oh, there are villains. Assassins and powerful summoners plague our heroes every step of the way, as they intend to keep their secrets hidden deep within the shadows of the smuggler’s tunnels they inhabit. Carolan drops hints throughout allowing you to make connections pretty quickly, but he holds back on revealing the extent of depravity and vileness that lie within their hearts until the grand reveal. For fear of spoiling, I won’t go into much detail here, but I will say there is an emotional factor that may cause some level of sympathy…or not.
The plot takes us on a journey filled with twists and turns, where everything ultimately comes together in the most beautiful of ways. A curious piece of modern equipment with troubling anomalies, a missing girl with a checkered past, a haunting and heinous revelation – the trek to the truth is most definitely a satisfying one. Immersive prose, and instances where knowledge of the time period and area are glaringly apparent, immediately piqued my interest, and kept the pages flying by. My only bit of criticism would be for some occasional informational overloads that seemed to have no bearing on the story itself.
The Nightshade Cabal is an exhilarating read that just utterly absorbed my attention. It’s unique investigative plot combined with brilliant characters, mist-laden city streets, and reckless steamcarraige rides made it a blast to read. And that epilogue! Will there be more? I sure hope so. If you’re looking for something that straddles the line between historical fiction and fantasy, defined by a crime mystery, but executed with the boundless rules of fantasy, then I suggest you give this one a try. I highly recommend.
Note: A huge thank you to Chris Patrick Carolan and The Parliament House for providing me with a complementary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
Chris Patrick Carolan has never traveled by hovercraft or eaten an ostrich, but by becoming a published writer has achieved at least one of the goals he set in his Grade 11 Career and Life Management class workbook. His short fiction has appeared in the anthologies Enigma Front: Burnt (Analemma Books, 2016, shortlisted for an Aurora Award) and Enigma Front: The Monster Within (2017). Born in Glasgow, Scotland, he now lives in Calgary, Alberta, where he is working on various projects including his first novel, a paranormal mystery set in 1880s Halifax.