In Deathscent: Intrigues of the Reflected Realm Robin Jarvis has created an endearing and yet dark tale which encompasses historical adventure, fantastical visitors from other worlds and political intrigue. "Englandia" is the familiar Renaissance England of history and literature yet also full of unfamiliar practices and characters--Elizabeth has been on the throne for 178 years, but is still at war with Catholic Spain; one's class within society is still determined by one's noble status and favour with the queen (and indicated by how frilly one's ruff is or how flamboyant one's doublet and hose), but that archaic society exists in 93 beatified floating isles, which were "raised" many years before; and the only living animals which exist are humans. This last conceit is brilliantly elaborated upon to great comic and sentimental effect--the mechanical animals which exist instead (and whose "proudflesh" is eaten after being harvested and flavoured with essence of beef, venison, pork or lamb) become characters in their own right. Suet, the mechanical piglet who is blessed with being given one of the most sophisticated cordials or humours to make him work, is a devoted pet that any reader would like to adopt for themselves.
Adam o' the Cogs is the young apprentice who is adored by Suet the piglet, and it is partly through his eyes that we follow the story. His life in a literal backwater in Suffolk working as a repairer of these mechanical animals is disturbed greatly when Brindle, a visitor from another world, comes crashing down to their floating isle in his alien vehicle. By focusing also on Brindle's experience of this strange world Jarvis very successfully explains the alien and the familiar to the 21st-century reader. Jarvis's ear for authentic 16th-century language, and his insistence on retaining Renaissance authenticity despite the fantastical setting and conceits, ensures that the genuine excitement of Elizabethan politics is conveyed to the reader as clearly as the mundane of everyday life.
In Deathscent, Jarvis packs in many events within a short time span, though never letting the pace of the story detract from the detailed description and character development. The ending is hinted at in the last third of the book, and the quick-witted who follow Adam and his thoughts carefully will not be too surprised at the outcome. However, the nature of that outcome cannot be truly anticipated, and it fits satisfyingly into the twisting and turning plot that has been so lovingly created. --Olivia Dickinson