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Book Review: Death by Silver

Death by Silver, by Melissa Scott and Amy Griswold, was first published in 2013.

The book blurb reads: When his nemesis from schoolboy days hires metaphysician Ned Mathey to investigate his father’s murder, Ned turns to his friend and sometime lover, detective Julian Lynes, for help. Together, they must navigate a maze of deceit, danger, their painful past and, perhaps, a chance at a future together, in an Edwardian London as full of peril as it is with magic. Can they solve the mystery at the heart of the murder to forge a new kind of partnership or will the past and society’s disapproval send them off on separate paths?

I didn’t get a lot of reading done in 2023. To be honest, I haven’t gotten a lot of reading done in recent years…

Lest this be styled like a recipe blog (where the content is relegated to a far-off paragraph reached only by navigating the author’s personal trials and tribulations), I will simply say, I had a small pool of ‘read’ books to pick from for this year, but this was the cream of the crop.

Death by Silver is gritty and has depth while still being an easy, enjoyable read. I read it over two days, and I’m glad I started it on Friday, because I was up with it until two in the morning.

There were several elements that rate discussion: the relationship of the two protagonists, the historical setting, the magical system, and the mystery.

It is no secret that I mainly read queer stories, and mainly write queer stories, and generally am always on the lookout for well-written queer stories. This is absolutely that. There is just enough character history (told in flashbacks that relate to the characters’ schoolboy days with each other and their client) to thoroughly invest the reader in these characters and their relationship. We learn early on that this is a mutual pining situation, where each of the men believes that the other doesn’t want anything serious.

As the book reads like a Sherlock Holmes-ian episodic mystery, I was concerned this uncertainty might drag on more-or-less unchanged, but I’m happy to say that I had nothing to fear. This is the first book in a duology and I was very satisfied with the relationship progression throughout the book. While the story is firstly a mystery, the relationship is definitely the heart of this character-driven story.

The setting for this is the late 1800s. I’m not a historian and wouldn’t know an inconsistency if it hit me over the head with a pipe, but I can say I was fully immersed and fascinated by the descriptions. The sense of place and time was established quickly and maintained with subtle details throughout – the dress, the attitudes, and the general atmosphere were all richly developed within the narrative.

The magic of this world – metaphysics – is a complex system of language, symbols, and energy that was one of my absolute favorite parts of this book. The way the system was woven into the book was really beautifully done and so enjoyable to read. As someone who has seen an awful lot of hand- and wand-waving in fantasy, I loved seeing a system that was complex but understandable in a very academic way.

The plot (in all senses of the word) was enjoyable and satisfying but felt more like a vehicle for character and relationship development than the other way around. This doesn’t mean that the mystery was unimportant or uninteresting, but what happened during the investigation was much more about the character arcs of the two detectives than it was about the unfolding of the mystery itself, or its resolution.

For me, this balance was perfect. I wanted a satisfying mystery, but what I was really longing for was a satisfying conclusion for the two protagonists. I got all that, plus a layered magical system with substance, and historical detail that felt gritty and solid. I enjoyed everything about this book and would highly recommend it.

Warnings (not intended to be an exhaustive list): non-graphic sexual assault (flashback); physical abuse (flashback); period typical misogyny; period typical homophobia; non-graphic ‘on screen’ death of a MC; minor magical drug use; non-graphic violence

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