25 October 2018

Review: The Brotherhood of the Seven Kings by L. T. Meade

Kindle eBook, n.pag.
Published 2006 (originally 1898)
Read October 2018
The Brotherhood of the Seven Kings by L. T. Meade and Robert Eustace
He brought out his microscope, which I saw, to my delight, was of the latest design, and I set to work at once, while he watched me with evident interest. At last the crucial moment came, and I bent over the instrument and adjusted the focus on my preparation. My suspicions were only too well confirmed by which I had extracted what I saw.
I previously read an excerpt from The Brotherhood of the Seven Kings in The Sorceress of the Strand and Other Stories, but the whole thing is on Project Gutenberg. Brotherhood is actually very similar to Sorceress: a scientific man keeps running into the dastardly plans of a scientific woman taking London by storm, a woman both beautiful and vaguely occult. Brotherhood was serialized (in The Strand), but it's somewhere between a Charles Dickens novel and a Sherlock Holmes story. It's not one big story like a Dickens serial, but it's not a string of standalones like Doyle's Holmes stories.

Rather, Norman Head (who studied physiology at Cambridge, but never qualified, and now does it out of sheer love) has a different encounter with some agent of Madame Koluchy's in each story. Sometimes he wins, sometime Koluchy wins, and the stories gradually chart their battle. It's like one of those tv series where the same bad guy is behind every plot, and sometime the situation changes, but mostly it remains static until the season finale.

The stories are decent, if not great. Meade over-depends on characters giving long backstory dumps to one another, which sucks the tension out of some tales, but other I enjoyed. Most stories have some kind of scientific conceit at their heart, making them borderline science fiction or maybe technothrillers-- people killed with new disease strains, or burglars using pendulums, or a temperature-triggered explosive, or x-rays used as a weapon. (The book has a co-writing credit for Robert Eustance; Janis Dawson's introduction to Sorceress says this is Robert Eustace Barton, who provided Meade with medical/scientific information while she wrote the stories herself [19].)

Madame Koluchy herself is kind of the best part. She's barely in the stories, usually working through agents, but that makes her all the more captivating. She's supposedly a scientist, and she does indeed invent things, but this is mostly what we're told about her. When we are actually shown her, her effect is more occult; she pulls people into her orbit with her beauty, and grants them what they desire if they help her advance the power of the Brotherhood of the Seven Kings. Boring old Norman Head (and his lawyer friend) are hardly worthy adversaries; Head used to be a member of the Brotherhood and in love with Koluchy, but it's hard to imagine this. A version of this with more Madame Koluchy, and more consistently intriguing and varied plots, would be a good book, but as it is, we have a pedestrian one with occasional flashes of interest.

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