Series: CROWN & KEY TRILOGY
Plot Type: Steampunk Fantasy; Historical Urban Fantasy
Ratings: Violence—4; Sensuality—1; Humor—1
Publisher and Titles: Del Rey
The Shadow Revolution (6/2/2015)
The Undying Legion (6/30/2015)
The Conquering Dark (7/28/2015)
The cultural and social elements (e.g., clothing, language, class differences) seem to be portrayed realistically, although a fair amount of steampunk gadgetry turns up from time to time. And, that's all, folks—no more world-building, none at all!
I came to this series with great expectations, having enjoyed the Griffith's VAMPIRE EMPIRE TRILOGY immensely. (Click HERE to read my reviews of those books.) That series was set in a complex, fascinating world filled with interesting, multi-dimensional characters and action-packed plots. Here's what I said in my review of the final novel in that series: "All of the leading characters and most of the supporting characters are fully developed, with extensive personal histories and complex personalities. No one is all good or all bad. Even though [some characters] are villains, we understand what made them that way. We also understand why they must be destroyed, but we...don't necessarily feel good about it. In every book, characters must grapple with issues of morality, loyalty, and justice, and they consistently do it in interesting and compelling ways. The Griffiths have created a marvelous world in this trilogy, and I highly recommend it."
Unfortunately, based on my reading of the first book in CROWN & KEY, I can't make any of those complimentary comments. In fact, I can't make any complimentary comments at all.
The publisher prefaces the blurbs for the three CROWN & KEY novels with identical braggadocio: "A thrilling new Victorian-era urban fantasy for fans of Kevin Hearne’s IRON DRUID CHRONICLES, the Showtime series Penny Dreadful, and the Sherlock Holmes movies featuring Robert Downey, Jr." Don't believe a word of that boastful statement. If you are a fan of Hearne's IRON DRUID CHRONICLES, let me warn you right now that this series is in no way comparable to that terrific series—not in the world-building, plot quality, character development, or complexity of action. There are a few similarities to Penny Dreadful, but the TV show has much better story lines and infinitely better character development. I haven't followed Downey's Sherlock Holmes films, but I can't imagine that this series is in any way comparable.
NOVEL 1: The Shadow Revolution
It is hard for me to believe that the same authors who wrote the terrific VAMPIRE EMPIRE TRILOGY have written CROWN & KEY. I am so very, very disappointed.
To read or listen to an excerpt from The Shadow Revolution, click HERE to go to the book's Amazon.com page and click on either the cover art or the "Listen" icon.
NOVEL 2: The Undying Legion
With a flood of dark magic about to engulf Victorian London, can a handful of heroes vanquish a legion of the undead?
The plot has two speeds: a slow plod and a frenzied turmoil. The authors use a pattern of repetitive segments in which one part of the group does some investigation and then is immediately forced into a life or death battle with some monstrous enemy—a battle that the good guy and/or gal always wins. And repeat and repeat, etc. This alternating surveillance-to-scuffle pattern begins early on and continues through until the final pages. I found myself paging through fight scene after fight scene, completely uninterested in who was being thrown into a wall, or tossed around like a rag doll, or jabbed with a left hook, or clawed in the chest, or strangled by the beast of the day. The story line becomes more and more convoluted until it finally ends with a resolution that includes several twists, but by that point I just didn't care any more.
Don't take my word on it. Here are two sections of William Blake's poem, "Jerusalem," that are key to the plot. See if you make any sense of these lines.
On a more personal note, Simon and Kate share their first kiss and then a few more, so that romance is headed in the right direction. Meanwhile, Malcolm makes the acquaintance of Eleanor, a magical young woman who will certainly be featured in the final novel. Toward the end of the book, Malcolm takes a good look at Penny Carter, the quirky weapons inventor, so there may be romance coming for the two of them. Simon's mentor, Nick, turns up very briefly in the middle of the book (as grumpy as ever), but is soon left behind. Once again, there is little or no character development for the secondary characters. We do meet Penny's crippled brother, and we do learn more about Simon's parents, but that's about it. My favorite character is Charlotte, who comes to live on Kate's estate and eventually becomes Malcolm's sidekick (with great reluctance on his part).
This is definitely not a stand-alone book. It is a transition between the beginnings of the key-related plot that began in book one and the big Gaios showdown in book three. If you try to read this book first, you will have a tough time understanding the frequent references to events that occurred in The Shadow Revolution.
This series has been a huge disappointment to me so far. The Undying Legion has a stale, I've-read-this-before feeling to it. The authors have pulled together a few clichéd steampunky bits and added the old, familiar ancient-power-escapes trope, but they have failed to fully develop their mythology and their characters. As a result of these problematic issues, I do not plan to read the final novel. (But the publisher's blurb for the third novel appears below.) When I find myself not caring about what happens to the main characters in a series after reading the first two books, I know that it is time to stop reading that series.
NOVEL 3: The Conquering Dark