Devils and Dust – Black Arts by Prentice and Weil

‘Black Arts’ is a fast-paced, young adult fantasy, that entertains throughout. Set in London in 1592, the novel opens with Jack about to undergo his initiation into a gang of street thieves. The leader of the gang is the menacing and mendacious Sharkwell, an Elizabethan Fagin. As part of his first job, Jack picks the pocket of a mysterious foreigner, and in the process hooks more than he bargained for.

As as result of his actions Jack finds himself an orphan, and the enemy of the powerful preacher Nicholas Webb. He also has a stained red hand, and an infected eye. An eye that can see a second London; a layer that sits beneath his own, that no one else can see. A London that is the domain of devils. Sharkwell expressly forbids Jack from pursuing his vendetta against Webb, but of course if he listened ‘Black Arts’ would be a very short novel…

Prentice and Weil have a strong sense of setting and character. The foetid side of Elizabethan England is evocatively described, as is the superstition and paranoia of the era. There is also a fine sprinkling of London folklore, that gives the novel some extra depth. The characters are well-drawn and believable, with a crew of plucky heroes and dastardly villains that will have you cheering and booing as you read. The storyline is slight, but there is enough ambiguity in it to keep you guessing as to the outcome right to the very end. It is, in essence, an old-fashioned good v evil caper, that delivers excitement and entertainment from start to finish. The novel is complete in itself, but there are plenty of opportunities for further books in the series. Books, which on the strength of this one, I’d be more than happy to read.

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