Sir Francis Walsingham, Queen Elizabeth’s spymaster, has asked Dr. John Dee to summon a demon so he can ask it questions about who is threatening the queen. Just as the demon arrives, though, something goes wrong and the demon jumps into the body of Lady Lucy Dennys, Walsingham’s pretty ward. The demon, who calls herself Lilith, endows Lucy with superpowers, so when England is threatened by malevolent forces, Lucy starts kicking ass in her petticoats.
I like the premise and plot of John Lambshead’s Lucy’s Blade and its science-fantasy twist on where demons come from (Lilith is a future being who comes to Earth to study her ancestors). I also like the Elizabethan setting. The characters were mostly well done, especially Queen Elizabeth (I wish we had spent more time with her — she was a great character), Walsingham’s secretary Simon Tunstall, and the pirate William Hawkins.
Lucy’s Blade was unique and diverting, but it didn’t meet its potential, mostly because it simply lacked style. Lambshead’s sentences are short, choppy, mostly of similar structure (usually with the subject at the beginning of the sentence), and lacking creativity in word choice and figurative language. These are two consecutive paragraphs on pages 129-130 of the hardback:
Simon sat down beside Lucy. Gwilym leaned against the wall by the door where he could watch anyone entering. A servant came in with glasses of hypocras. This expensive sweet liqueur, imported by Venetians from Smyrna, was a rare treat. The servant passed around plates of sugared pastries and pears.
The theatre was a hexagon open to the sky in the centre. The stage was a raised area against the front wall. Two highly decorated pillars held up a canopy that protected the actors from the elements. The Underside of the roof was painted deep blue and decorated with stars.
This sing-song cadence could have been fixed by a more conscientious editor. The editor should also have fixed the suddenly shifting character viewpoints, the inconsistency in the narrative voice, the misspelling of Lady Dennys’ name at one point, and the many missing commas. Also, the editor should have noticed that as the pirate ship was being piloted up the Thames, Simon asked the pilot a question… but Simon wasn’t on the ship.
A related issue is the constant interruption of the plot and dialog with expository statements. At some points, nearly every line of dialog and every sentence that advances the plot is followed by a sentence of explanation:
- “Very good, Master Smethwick.” The master could be safely left to organise such details with his usual competence.
- “I believe I will take a turn down the long gallery to catch the sun.” The Queen slipped from the royal pronoun “we,” indicating that she was now expressing the personal opinion of Elizabeth, rather than a royal view as head of the English state.
In their dialog, characters often tell each other information that is clearly only for the reader’s benefit, such as when the Englishman Walsingham tells his English secretary (more than once) that Queen Mary is Queen Elizabeth’s sister and that Mary’s husband is Philip of Spain. Not only is it unlikely that Walsingham the spymaster needed to mention that to his educated trusty secretary, but it makes for clumsy dialog and it slows the action.
If you can read beyond these issues, then you may very well enjoy Lucy’s Blade because it’s a unique story with engaging characters and bright spots of humor. However, so much of my own enjoyment of reading comes from the appreciation of the author’s use of language and style and Lucy’s Blade didn’t fulfill my expectations in that domain.