Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Gideon’s Angel – Historical Fantasy at Its Best!

Every once in a while I read a novel that reminds me why I adore historical fantasy. It starts with the historical setting, a window to a world in our past and a chance to learn a bit of history – a trait that all well written historical fiction shares. But add in a bit of the mystical and magical, particularly if it’s based on real-world religion or mythology, and the story can become something special, igniting the imagination in ways that only fantasy fiction can. Gideon’s Angel by Clifford Beal is a case in point.

I absolutely loved this novel. It’s set in the Seventeenth Century following the English Civil War. King Charles I has been executed, his son is in exile, and Oliver Cromwell has become the Lord Protector of England. The story’s protagonist is Colonel Richard Treadwell, a Royalist and veteran of many wars, who is exiled to France, working in the service of Cardinal Giulio Mazarin and his agent, Monsieur d’Artagnan (a real life character and the hero of The Three Musketeers). The cardinal has learned that someone in the English court is dabbling in the black arts, and may be preparing to unleash a great evil into the world. The cardinal believes Colonel Treadwell possesses “a skill for finding the Underworld like a pig finds truffles,” and wants him to discover this Satanist among the English court. But Treadwell, has other ideas, planning instead on joining a rebellion to overthrow Cromwell.

Treadwell travels to England, only to find the rebellion is being led by fools, but that the threat the cardinal warned of may be all too real. He soon earns the enmity of Major Gideon Fludd, a member of a secret society called the Fifth Monarchy. Fludd believes he can commune with an angel, and by doing the angel’s bidding, he will usher in the second coming of Christ, even if it will take the murder of Oliver Cromwell to make that happen. Suddenly, Treadwell finds himself on a quest to save Cromwell, the man he vowed to overthrow, and to stop Fludd and his supernatural minions to prevent the End of Days.

Treadwell is accompanied by an unlikely sidekick, a young rapscallion named Billy Chard who is so likeable he quickly became one of my favorite characters. Meanwhile, Treadwell’s Parisian mistress, Maggie, has followed him to England, accompanied by d’Artagnan, who is hell-bent on returning the rogue colonel to Cardinal Mazarin. Along the way, Treadwell is also aided by a mysterious gypsy, a group of Freemasons, and a Spanish rabbi, who is a scholar of Jewish mysticism.

The story’s “magic” is based that mysticism and includes some of its legendary artifacts, such as the Seal of Solomon and the Key of Solomon. There are abundant supernatural elements, including a host of demons – imagined in the truest medieval sense – and the “angel” that gives the book its title. All these magical elements work well together, blending seamlessly with a swashbuckling action and adventure tale that kept me turning the pages. I loved all of the religion and mysticism, and ended up really caring about the characters. Also, the well-developed historical setting made me feel as if I was roaming through Seventeenth Century London (especially London Bridge, where a lot of action occurs). In all, Gideon’s Angel is historical fantasy at its best, and I highly recommend it!

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