Review: Netherworld by Lisa Morton

When I received Netherworld, based on the cover image, I was prepared for a Steampunk spin on a horror novel. I should know better than to judge a book by its cliche. It’s a different blend of historical fiction, travelogue and classic horror.

When we meet Lady Diana, she is the bride of Lord William Furnaval and apprentice to his position as a gatekeeper. His family has presided over the gateway on their family estate for generations. Gateways are places where spirits, apparitions and other manifestations from the “other side” are able to cross over into this world. Lord William has never met another gatekeeper but he assumes there must be others.

Diana eagerly learns at his side. Over several years she becomes well-read and well-trained in the occult arts. She and her husband find and banish troublesome spirits with the aid of an old grimoire titled, The Book of Gateways, Conjurations and Banishments.

William is contacted by another gatekeeper who desperately needs his help. Though he is cautious, he travels to Transylvania to offer his assistance. Months later, Diana receives news that William is dead. Through the intercession of a psychic friend and a mysterious bookseller, Diana believes that he may be alive on the other side of a gateway.

Emboldened by these revelations, she is determined to seek out other gateways and discover the truth about William.She and her cat undertake a journey across Europe, the Orient, and the Americas to closed the gates to the netherworld and bring her husband home. Along they way, she befriends Yi-kin, a Chinese man raised by British missionaries. His friendship and knowledge quickly becomes indispensable to her mission.

I liked this novel. The first chapter had me hooked, getting the novel off to a fast start that kept me up past my bedtime a night or two.

The character Diana Furnaval was just a little too anachronistic. Yes, there were many notable women of that era who were writing and speaking out for women’s suffrage. (Susan B. Anthony and Antoinette Brown Blackwell are two I’m familiar with.) Based on the real lives and opinions of period feminists, I think the author used too heavy a hand with Diana. I also felt bludgeoned by yet another lesson on how Victorian imperialism and American manifest destiny was terrible for anyone who wasn’t white. To her credit, the author represented other cultures with an even hand, showing both the bad and the good that was typical of the era.

The novel began to get repetitive around the middle of the story. The same situation was presented, wrapped in a new location with only slight differences in the mechanics. I was left a little flat by the use of magic. With a few exceptions, the occultism and rituals used to banish the antagonists seem a bit too simplistic to me. Yi-kin’s use of martial arts is believably realistic, but overall the action varied from good to lukewarm.

The story picks up at the end. The last several chapters had me back to my up-too-late reading habits, eager to find out how it ended.

I would recommend this book to those who enjoy strong female characters, romance, clever cats and globe-trotting adventures. Those who are well-versed in paranormal fiction may be disappointed by the lack of magical detail.

Note: I received an advance copy of this novel in exchange for a review.

Expected publication: January 10th 2014 by JournalStone

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