In 1641, the country of England stands divided. London has become a wasps’ nest of spies, and under the eyes of the Roundheads those who practice magic are routinely sent to hang.
Living in exile in the Surrey countryside is the Master Astrologer and learned magician William Lilly. Since rumours of occult practice lost him the favour of Parliament, he has not returned to the city. But his talents are well-known, and soon he is called up to London once more, to read the fate of His Majesty the King.
What he sees in the stars will change the course of history.
Only Lilly and a circle of learned astrologers – Cunning Folk – know that London is destined to suffer plague and fire before the decade is through, and must summon angel and demon to sway the political powers from the war the country is heading toward. In doing so, Lilly will influence far greater destinies than his own and encounter great danger. But there will be worse to come . . .
An epic telling of the role of magic in the English Civil War, The Magick of Master Lilly is the story of the most influential astrologer in English history.
At the time of writing this review Goodreads have rated this as 3.21 out of 5
1st November 2018 by Little Brown Book Group
I should introduce myself to you, dear Reader. I am William Lilly Esquire, of some thirty-nine years of age at the beginning of this chronicle. At this time I resided in a large cottage in Hersham, in the county of Surrey, and was in the midst of an unhappy second marriage – but I shall elaborate on that later.
I received a copy of this ARC from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
Two things first before you continue with this review:-
- I’m a little confused by the publishing date and publisher. Goodreads tells me this was published by Sphere on the 7th June 2018 but I requested this from Netgalley from Little Brown Book Group (which may possibly be affiliated with Sphere) with a release date of 1st November 2018. I don’t understand but I may be missing something.
- It is a ‘Did Not Finish’ and so my review is based on what I read and not the entire book. I managed to get about 30% of the way through before I sadly bowed out.
The reason’s why I requested ‘The Magick of Master Lilly’ are threefold; I enjoy historical fiction and I especially enjoy historical fiction when there are speculations as to how/ why events occurred (in this case elements of magic and mysticism), I like stories about political intrigue and court scheming and I’m fascinated by the strength of belief that people had in the past that the stars influenced or predicted events and behaviour.
The Magick of Master Lilly combined all those elements and so I found myself interested.
I didn’t know much (read: nothing) of the real William Lilly but a little research told me that he was a particularly astute astrologer who got involved with politics and who predicted The Great Fire of London to scary degrees of accuracy that it was suggested he started it. He didn’t, by the way.
Other reviews I have read have said similar things along the line as this:-
It’s slow to get started but stick with it and you’ll be rewarded.
The problem I have is that I am impatient. I don’t have a lot of time in my life, being one of those modern busy gals and all, and so for me I need a book to get into the events quite quickly. It doesn’t need to rush to it because I can take a build up, but I need it to move a bit quicker than the pace this was setting.
About 30% of the way in and for me, nothing was happening. Master Lilly had reached London and was told that he would need to the plot the astrological chart of King Charles the 1st. When I left him, he was in his study doing so.
That was one of the main reasons for my DNF – I felt that the pacing was too slow. The other reason why this 30% felt too slow in terms of pacing and why it felt nothing was happening was because of the excessive exposition.
I was getting an information dump as to William Lilly’s life before the events of this story, even when it didn’t seem to bear much relevance to the plot. Yes, he was interested in astrology but I don’t need to know how it was financed. Yes, he is an astrologer and so needs to demonstrate this to us (the show not tell) but unfortunately this was shown in more detail than it probably needed to be.
Demonstrating his knowledge worked best when William would refer to certain traits in passing, to paraphrase: ‘my wife is stingy and I would have known this had I paid attention to the fact that her moon was in Venus’ or some-such. But we get a lot of detailed astrological plotting and I felt like it was to show that the author had done their research.
The other main reason I DNF’d is actually one of the stories strengths. Bear with me.
Voice is so hard to do in stories and I think it takes a real skill. It’s easier to get across sometimes in first person point of view (which this book is) but it either works or doesn’t.
The Magick of Master Lilly succeeds in voice. William Lilly’s voice is strong and clear and you should be able to gauge this even from the opening lines. The writer has done well at creating a unique voice for her character, she has also written in a way that dilutes modern speech and has aimed for the language used in the 1600’s. As a technique, this is great. This is skill.
If you like the voice and the language here then this book will immediately be more enjoyable for you. If you don’t, then it won’t. Unfortunately I didn’t like William or his voice and I struggled with the time appropriate language as I didn’t find it the easiest to read.
Ultimately it’s personal taste at the end of the day, and sadly this wasn’t for me but I will use this book as an example of how to create a distinctive character voice and the author must be praised for that.