The Deathsniffer’s Assistant by Kate McIntyre is an absorbing blend of mystery and alternate history with fantasy thrown in. In many ways, this world is Edwardian, but instead of advancing mechanically, this world has a science based on the ability to bind various types of beings to their will. Water sprites, salamanders, and other such creatures provide the power for their world. People, too, are “bound” in a way: When they reach working age, their talent is developed and they are told what sorts of jobs they can work. Christopher Buckley, from a once-wealthy family, has a little-valued skillset and a younger sister to support. Worse, he has to hide his sister’s rare abilities from those who would exploit her. So, he takes a job few others would accept: That of assistant to a Deathsniffer, one of the few whose specialty is solving murder cases. He finds his new employer mercurial and hard to understand, but at least he’s being paid.
Kate McIntyre has provided a perfect blend of the three genres she works in. The Edwardian setting provides a recognizable backdrop and helps frame the social mores of the culture. The alterations made by the different power source and the use of magic are different enough to keep this from being our world with a thin overlay. People’s outlooks and expectations have been deeply affected by the power they wield over other beings and by their own classification system. The change extends to small areas as well; there are lamps of a familiar build, but they hold salamanders, not oil and flame.
And the mystery is a good, solid mystery. Some of the means Olivia uses may be unfamiliar, but her work still involves a lot of plain old detective work. Readers can follow the clues along with Christopher, and can see how matters unfold. The political intrigues along the side may have different elements, but they are oh-so-familiar in other ways.
Characters are richly drawn an fully developed. It is apparent that even the minor characters have their own lives to lead, even as the focus is on Christopher and his struggles. Both he and the Deathsniffer, Olivia, develop as the plot progresses.
The Deathsniffer’s Assistant is the first book in a series, and it leaves some matters open, but the main story ties up well, making it worth reading as a standalone. This reader is also looking forward to the sequel as well.
The Deathsniffer’s Assistant came out from Curiosity Quills Press on July 13th 2015. Look for it on Amazon