It is always nice to get a book to review, and it comes with the first two in the series. It is nicer when those books are so wonderfully clever, unique, and well written that you don’t feel the weight of obligation over reading them.
The Heartreader’s Secret (book three of the Faraday Files), and the first two in the series (The Deathsniffer’s Assistant & The Timeseer’s Gambit) are just such books. What surprised me the most was how much I liked them, considering how much I dislike the main POV character. It’s a conundrum indeed.
The basic premise is this: in an alternate universe England, magic is the source of…well…everything. It powers lights, vehicles, etc., it is used to cool homes, and heat them, it is basically everything we use technology for, and then some (noise shields to keep the street noise from houses, for example). In this world, some years back, a fairly vulgar display of power, the Floating Castle (a neigh-literal name), failed in a disastrous manner, killing thousands. Including Christopher Buckley’s parents. Now, broke and desperate, he takes employment as an assistant to Olivia Faraday, consulting detective. In this world, detectives are often Truthsniffers – their powers allow them to detect lies and falsehoods – even things like staged crime scenes. Olivia, however, styles herself as a Deathsniffer, one who solves murders specifically. Christopher is a Wordweaver, which seems to be a magically powered manner of transcription. Honestly, this is one power I don’t quite get, as it seems like a complex way to avoid just jotting down notes.
In this third installment, we follow Olivia and Chris to her home in the country, looking into what may be the disappearance of their friend Emilia Banks. What is revealed is a plot of murder, conspiracy, betrayal, and reconciliation as Christopher has to deal with his feelings for the titular Timeseer of book two, his sisters governess Rachel, and his love of being the biggest jerk in the world. As a lover of backstory, I was most happy to see a lot of it here. In fact, this is a majorly revelatory entry in the series, as we get to see some of what, exactly, is up with Chris, why Olivia hates home, the William issue, and more about the world that is slowly beginning to unravel around them all.
The story here is actually really involved – there are a lot of plates spinning all at once, and McIntyre is absolutely perfect at keeping everything moving in the same direction, and not only being resolved, but resolved in an internally-consistent and personally satisfactory manner.
Except Buckley. Hot mess is not even close to how I would describe him. In places, i actively rooted for his death or removal by other means (coma, insanity, Thanos, kidnapping, running away, the Demogorgon, whatever). I really dislike him, in almost every possible way. He is spiteful, hateful, sexist, racist, petty beyond reason, bigoted (which is presented as being a product of the time, but in three books of immersion that should have shown the way, he had not changed), self-loathing, and vindictive. His treatment of almost literally everyone he considers beneath him (and that is almost everyone who isn’t Olivia, his sister, Olivia’s mother, Maris, and the police as a whole) is rude, dismissive, and…well, if I want this review on Amazon, I can’t say what I want to…but it ends in -hole. Chris is the weakest point of the book (and series), and while I was ok with it in the first book, as it made sense, by this point it is really rather annoying.
That said, I get why it is how it is – Chris is the negative lens through which the characters are seen in order to make a statement about the sexism and bigotry of the times – and of ours. It makes sense, and maybe is effective to others, but it falls flat here. I particularly dislike his treatment of William. If things hadn’t happened as they did in Timeseer’s Gambit, then it wouldn’t be so annoying. But they did. I understand (without being able to experience) that there is a cohort in the homosexual world that are Chris – gay (bi?), and unable/willing to accept it in themselves, and thus self-loathing. But that is something I cannot and will not experience, and so while I accept that it is real (I have known men who experienced this very thing), I dislike the portrayal. I think that is a result of the men I have worked with who were in a similarly self-inflicted position; gay but unable or unwilling to accept it, and thus conflicted. Understanding is not acceptance, and my fervent hope is that he is better in the eagerly awaited book four.
Reading other reviewers, they seem to find Chris a large part of their enjoyment of the series. And kudos to them all for seeing something I cannot. I love this despite him. All that above didn’t lower the score – not in the least. And that says something to me about the power of this book. It tells a compelling story in a society that is, and is not, from our own history. And that needs some comment too. I like steampunk well enough, but this is some next-level work here. The simple change I welcomed most was that this wasn’t ‘England with magic and mad science’, it was a different world altogether. None of the names were the same, the history felt different, the rest of the world was different. This is great! While not-London is fine, taking the leap to make it wholly different was welcome and contributed to the whole series in many different ways. Not the least of which was having the world be all the author’s own, so things can be where they need to be for the plot. Not inconveniently distant or close. That simple change was one of my favorite atmospheric notes in the series as a whole.
Lastly, this is classified as LGBT fiction, and many of the characters are homosexual or leaning that way, it is important that at no time does this feel wedged in, forced, or the sole point of the book. The plot and story come first, second, third, etc., and the sexuality is there as an aspect of that plot. For any who think that it can’t be done, this is precisely how you do it! Swap William for Wendy, and literally nothing needs to change except pronouns. That makes the perfect approach in my personal view, and is damn near worth a star just for that.
The Heartreader’s Secret is one of the best books I have come across in a long time. The whole Faraday Files series is that good. I cannot recommend this enough. It needs to be on your personal shortlist, and read ASAP.