The Ashes of London

Written by Andrew Taylor
Review by Douglas Kemp

The Great Fire rages in London. James Marwood, the narrator, who works as an underling reporter for Joseph Williamson, who in turn is in the employ of the Earl of Arlington, is despatched to discover what the feelings on the streets are amongst the populace about the conflagration. James’s father, a printer, was a convicted Fifth Monarchist, who had been imprisoned for participating in Thomas Venner’s 1661 uprising, but is now entering senility.

In a parallel story, Cat Lovett is a young heiress forced to live with distant relations in their rambling house in Holborn after the disgrace of her father, a hunted regicide. She is to be married off to an old roué, much to her disgust, and when she is raped by the son of the family, and she takes her violent revenge, she escapes from their clutches. The paths of Cat and James had met when she steals his cloak whilst they both watch the destruction of St. Paul’s in the fire, and then James accompanies his employer to visit her former home, to investigate the murder of one of the servants of the house, whose body was found in the burned out St Paul’s. The lives of Marwood and Cat move ever closer, unwittingly linked by the fanatical, millennial beliefs of their fathers. Both of them are sucked into events stranger and more dangerous than they could ever have envisaged.

This is an excellent story – wonderfully well plotted, with credible, well-rounded characters that fit well into the milieu of Restoration England. Andrew Taylor seems to leave open the possibility of a sequel or two, which would be very welcome.