Review: The Deathsniffer’s Assistant – Kate McIntyre

Book review: The Deathsniffer's Assistant by Kate McIntyreThe Deathsniffer’s Assistant takes place in a fantastic world where spirits and elementals are exploited in electricity’s stead, and where people are born with strange abilities…

Chris is a wordweaver – a scribe and basically the lowest categorisation there is.

Left orphaned along with his younger sister Rosemary in the wake of a national tragedy, Chris has grown up with few friends and a dwindling fortune, his priority always his sister’s safety. Because Rosemary isn’t just an ordinary little girl, waiting until categorisation awakens her latent ability – no, she is wizard, a savant already more powerful than any seasoned spiritbinder. But if that information got out, Rosemary’s future would be forfeit.

Work is scarce to come by even for those with a more impressive categorisation, so when Chris sees the position of assistant to a deathsniffer (a deathsniffer! This O. Faraday must have nerves of steel to advertise themselves as such) publicised in the paper for an absurd amount of money, he doesn’t care about the social implications of such work – he just needs to secure Rosemary’s welfare until she’s old enough to look out for herself.

Deathsniffer. Being a truthsniffer is one thing – having a feel of when someone’s lying certainly helps with regular police work, for example – but what sort of twisted person would choose to sniff out murders?

Olivia Faraday, that’s who.

The eccentric, moody, unbearably rude and callous, near-bloodthirsty, dainty Olivia Faraday. Little wonder she has to offer such a high wage to recruit a mere scribe.

But what choice does Chris have?

Before long he’s thrown into the manic and gory world of being a deathsniffer’s assistant, forced to record every detail of the murder (and resulting corpse) of Duke Viktor val Daren along with each interview and fleeting thought that escapes out of Olivia’s mouth – and there’s blood, so much blood! Chris always was the sensitive, mild-mannered, courteous son – how is he meant to deal with all this? How can he bend to Olivia’s will and at the same time protect his sister? If anyone learned how powerful she truly is, she’d be taken away and used up in a heartbeat.

And of course, there’s always more to a murder than first appears…

The encounter was still fresh in Chris’s mind when he stumbled, dazed, up the front steps of his home. He closed the front door and leaned back against it. Employment. Finally, at long last, employment.

x

Employment under a woman who appeared to be mad. Employment with a Deathsniffer who wore the name like a badge of honour. Employment earned in an interview where he had humiliated himself to depths he had hitherto not known he was capable of.

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But it was employment.

x

He closed his eyes. Be in at 8 o’clock tomorrow, Mr Buckley, the Deathsniffer had told him, teeth gleaming through her smile. No later. I’ll run you through the ropes, and soon enough you’re going to be right at home here.

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The thought was far more unnerving than it was comforting.

This book chewed up Sherlock Holmes with a fistful of fairy dust and spat out a masterpiece.

The Deathsniffer’s Assistant had me from the off – the whimsical setting, somewhere between Victorian England (or perhaps the Canadian equivalent) and a fantasy realm; the slightly feeble, well-mannered protagonist; the inevitably tragic concept of using trapped, sentient spirits to power utilities and appliances; murder! It’s all brought together in an exceptionally readable style, and I found myself devouring each page faster than the last in anticipation of the next part of the story.

The amount of ladies in the book was also a pleasant change. I find that, with fantasy books in particular, it is seldom the case that the strong female leads outnumber the males, but in this book that’s precisely the case. Of the major recurring characters we have Chris and Fernand, a close family friend and adviser. Other men pop up, of course, but they don’t have enough screen time for me to count them as main recurring characters (although I super want to count one of them because I love him, while being simultaneously very concerned about his future in the series…). On the lady side, we have Rosemary, Olivia, Rosemary’s governess and Maris Dawson, Olivia’s supervisor – and that’s not to mention the dead duke’s remaining family: a wife and daughter who are very present in the book. A largely female cast isn’t something that I particularly seek out in books, but it’s certainly noticeable in The Deathsniffer’s Assistant in a way that makes you aware that many other titles have an unfortunate paucity of ladies – a lady lack, if you will.

The investigation, which is the main string tying book one of The Faraday Files together, progresses in a way that doesn’t become stale, and leads you along some false alleys in pursuit of the killer – it also paces itself in that satisfying way that leads you to realise who the murderer is just before or just as the main characters do. Although – and here I thought was a slight hiccup in what was otherwise smooth sailing for the plot – I came to the conclusion about who the murderer was for a reason slightly divided from that given in the book. Indeed, the main revelation felt like a bit of a cheat as the information about the fictional world of The Deathsniffer’s Assistant that was necessary in order for the crime to be solved was withheld until a very late point in the investigation; Chekhov’s gun, if you will, showed up perilously near the end. While this didn’t make me throw down the book in frustration or anything like that, it was a slight disappointment.

One final thing I will say – because to say more than one thing further would be to give away parts of the book that should be discovered by you, dear reader, in due course – is that the characters are fantastic and a fangirl’s dream. They are realistic enough to be plausible but caricatured enough to be interesting, and you do end up caring for them: several times I met with significant distress due to some ill fortune befalling one of them. But I shan’t say any more about that.

(There are also a few prospective couples that I’m shipping pretty hard at the moment. Shall I claim the first deathsniffer fanfiction? Hmm, the thought is tempting…)

All in all, I think you will know by now whether you are the sort to fall in love with The Deathsniffer’s Assistant. Magic? Victorian-style sensibilities? Eccentric characters? Murder? (And I do mean gory murder – the corpse descriptions are not for the faint-hearted.) You know who you are. Go forth and buy this book!

I was sent a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. The Deathsniffer’s Assistant was published by Curiosity Quills Press on 13 July 2015, ISBN: 1620079097.

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