I don’t know much about Boston Massachusetts, which is not all that surprising as I grew up a hell of a lot closer to Boston Lincolnshire from whence the American East coast city got its name. Its streets are familiar to me mainly because I’ve hunted, or been hunted by Supermutants and raiders all through them. I know how to get to from Dimond City (Fenway Park) to Beacon Hill, but only the best route to take to avoid ghouls, and I could probably find my way to MIT, but I might get a little twitchy waiting for the synths to start shooting at me. But beyond my rudimentary knowledge of the city based on Fall Out 4, and a certain liking for the music of The Dropkick Murphys, I don’t know much about the city other than it has a touch of the Irish in its makeup.
The same can be said for my knowledge of the Boston Metaphysical Society. Though the graphic novels have been on my to-read list for a while now, I haven’t got around to them yet because my to-read is ever an endless undertaking, I need to catch up with the latest lucifer books for a start. Also, while I love the graphic novel art form, if I bought every graphic novel series that grabbed my attention, I would need a bigger house than the library I already live in. There is a reason, bibliophile though I am, that I buy a lot of Kindle books these days, not that I don’t acquire plenty of hardbacks and paperback as well but I try to limit myself to one new bookshelf a quarter or else I will never have room for the hypothetical pinball machine… But don’t buy ebook versions of graphic novels, as while I am happy to read a prose novel on a kindle, I refuse to read art on them. Graphic novels IMO need to be read in hardcopy formats.
Now the reason I am saying all this is because I recently picked up a copy of A Storm of Secrets, by Madeleine Holly-Rosing, a prose novel set in the Boston Metaphysical Society’s universe. As a prose novel, I was perfectly happy to grab a copy on Kindle and just read it, not worry about the bookshelf crisis of April2019. It would also allow me to sample the BMS universe, by dipping a toe in the water, something I had been looking forward to since interviewing Madeleine back in January.
A Storm Of Secrets By Madeleine Holly-Rosling
It was something of a blessing to read ‘A Storm of Secrets’ without having read the graphic novels first, because ‘A Storm of Secrets’ is a prequel to the main series, set some five or so years before the events in the first of those books. That said I’m sure fans of the original series will enjoy this novel just as much as I did, but not having read the graphic’s did mean I’d absolutely no idea what was likely to happen in the book and where these characters were going to be in five years time. Likewise, I didn’t have a scoobies which characters would prove to be important in the grand scheme of things and in whom it might be wise to avoid becoming too invested… I suspect, though I still have yet to read the graphic novels, that ‘A Strom of Secrets’ might have been a slightly different ride if I had. That said, readers of the graphic novels are likely to enjoy it from the flipside of finding out more about how characters they are already familiar with, come to be who they are… I honestly could not tell you which would be the better ride…
But to put the graphic novels to one side, and just take this book as it is, a singular piece of work, as well as the debut prose novel of its author, what can I say of it. Well it is utterly involving, it draws you in and slowly, quite stealthily, gets you invested not just in the main point of view characters but all the supporting cast as well. There are those all-important shades of grey to every character that makes them all the more real, and shades of grey to the alternative Boston that is the books setting. Coming as it does from an already richly imagined world where the ‘Great States of America’ are dominated by a feudal oligarchy of trading houses that form the upper classes and control the government. These great houses struggle with each other for positions of power in a world of airships and steam power, and a delightful side portion of the occult. There is a depth to the background that Madeleine draws upon, a depth build from the graphic novels and short stories over the years, that you can feel as you read. Yet at no point I, as someone new to the series, felt lost within this world or worse felt I was having it dryly explained to me. The rich history and background behind Madeleine’s universe is all there but it soaks into the reader rather than feeling like a torrent, which trusts me is a hard trick to pull off, and one that less talented writers of alternative histories often fail with. Madeleine never lets history lessons get in the way to the story, or the story become a history lesson. Instead, your understanding of this wonderfully vivid fully-realised world she has created grows organically as you read. Indeed in many ways, the setting and this reimagined city of Boston become just as much a character of the novel as the human ones. You find yourself invested in the city that Madeliene is inviting you to visit through her novel, from the very start when the newly married Elisabeth Weldsmore steps off a zeppelin with her husband, returning to the city her family built in many ways. Boston is a city of divisions, from the rich Manson houses around beacon hill, to the middle-class central districts, to the south side slums where Irish immigrants scrape a living. This is a rich city, and a poor one, but a setting that lives and breaths as a Boston that never was, but is not hard to believe could have been.
Everything within this novel is well polished, carefully considered and interweaved with passion and skill. It simmers away slowly but surely turning towards the boil. Then when things start to happen, they start to happen in spades as the storm of the title rolls over the Weldsmore family and Boston as a whole. And like all great storms, it leaves the world reshaped and full of sorrows and new possibilities.
As I said I have not read the graphic novels, nor any of the novella’s Madeleine has previously written, but I suspect it is only a matter of time until I order them and plunge myself into the great Bookcase crisis of May2019, because having had this taste of a Boston that never was, I can’t wait to devour some more. If this was Lovecraft would be giving it a score out of tentacles, and as there are hints of a little Lovecraftian goodness in all this, so it seems apt to do so…
If you want to know more about Madeliene and her Boston, she featured in my Indie April series and here is a link to the interview she gave the Passing Place there too, she is also one of the featured Indie writers and creatives in the Indieo’micon, where she and many others are waiting to be discovered (not that any of them need my help.)