The Year Of The Knife by GD Penman was a really intriguing book from the start. I was worried it would be too strange, too confusing with its alternate names and history, with the prevalence of seemingly science-based magic. However, The Year of the Knife proved to be just the opposite. Set in an alternate timeline of our world, New York City is called New Amsterdam and the colonies never left British rule. Sully is an agent with the Imperial Bureau of Investigations and while she is not one of the god-like magi, she is still a very powerful witch in her own right. The book is a mystery and adventure all rolled into one. Sully has been assigned to investigate a series of murders taking place across the American colonies, all of which committed by possessed corpses spouting the same tag line. “It is the year of the knife.”
As the investigation heats up, not only is she put into peril over and over again, but her superiors also come under fire from curses. Her secret vampire girlfriend, with whom she shares a complicated past, becomes just another target from the people on high who want Sully’s investigation to stop. Rampaging demons, Native American shapeshifters, and tyrannical redcoats all take up Sully’s attention and prevent her from unraveling the mystery. But eventually she finds the end of the thread and pulls, uncovering a centuries old conspiracy that no one could have foretold.
There were a variety of characters touched on in the book but the majority of the focus was on Sully. While she is an agent in the years of her semi-retirement, she spent much too long in the trenches at war to be completely idle without pushing herself to the limits. As the danger and action escalates through the book, Sully revels as the unfettered use of her offensive and defensive magics. She is an intriguing character, a fiery Irish red-head who was raised and trained by a bog witch. She is a hard-case who would rather head butt than hug, yet the reader can see over and over again in the book how much she cares about the city and the people she has sworn to protect. I liked her for all that abrasive sweetness and her dogged determination.
The Writing Style
Told in third person, the writing style for The Year of the Knife was very easy to follow. G.D. Penman has a way with imagery and action. There were times that I couldn’t identify what time period the characters were in, simply because of the colonial aspects of the book and the old school names of the other countries and places in the world. But part of me thinks that perhaps that was intentional. Maybe it was a subtle glimpse at what things could have been had the United States of America not broken free as its own sovereign nation.
The story really has a way of drawing a person in, from the very beginning. The world of Sully was different enough to be intriguing, yet familiar enough to avoid confusion on the reader’s part. I never once lost interest and was surprised over and over again as new clues and information were discovered by the main character. And the end? I would have never guessed that but it was satisfying and it wrapped things up nicely for me.
You got only as much detail as you needed to follow the story. The only thing I would have liked to have seen a little more of was the ending. Once things were all made clear, events happened very fast leading to the conclusion of the book. Like rushing the last three bites of a meal. It didn’t feel incomplete, just fast done.
While a great book will hold my attention obsessively and not let me put it down, a good book will let me savor it page by page. The Year of the Knife was a good book and I’d recommend it to anyone looking for a a fast-paced tale, a little magic or perhaps some alternate history. I enjoyed GD Penman’s ease at storytelling and I’ll definitely look for more works by the author in the future.
Excerpt from The Year Of The Knife by GD Penman
It was a quarter past midnight and the streets of Nova Europa’s capitol still pulsed with life. Not so long ago, Sully would have been in the midst of that crowd in one of the clubs that lined Park Slope with the scent of gin on her lips and her arm draped around some silly young wannabe starlet’s shoulders. She wasn’t in a nightclub tonight, though—she wasn’t even in the streets. She was hard at work among the vermin in the subway beneath the city.
The tunnel was pitch black and the trains weren’t running there thanks to the New Amsterdam Police Department’s order to cut the power, an emergency measure to keep Sully safe. Although safe was a relative term given that she was tracking a serial murderer through total darkness. It was a dangerous job, but one that suited Sully perfectly—certainly better than her earlier stint in the navy or the retirement in academia everyone seemed to expect from her. The subway company had made a stink about the impact the outage would have on their business, but they’d been left no choice in the matter. Besides, it was the middle of the night—not rush hour—they would survive the loss of a few hours’ worth of fares.
Sully kept her eyes down so that she wouldn’t give away her position; they glowed a dull red, the tell-tale sign that she had conjured vision enhancing magic—in this case a modified night vision spell that allowed her to see in the sunless tunnels. She needed the element of surprise; she was in the killer’s territory now. The heat signature of a set of footprints led her along the narrow subway walkways. They were getting brighter the farther in that she traveled. The NAPD officers on the scene had warned her that there was a homeless population in the tunnels, so it was possible that she was chasing one of them instead of her killer, but she doubted it. There was a certain cosmic geometry involved in magic, and once you knew how to interpret the angles, it only took simple calculations to work backward from effect to cause. Sully knew that whoever was casting the spells that had been killing citizens of New Amsterdam was doing it from down here.
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Bits and Bobs
- ISBN number: 9780996626286
- Publisher: Meerkat Press, LLC
GD Penman Online
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