The Ashes of London by Andrew Taylor

The Ashes of London I always look forward to new books by Andrew Taylor, having enjoyed several of his others in the past. His last two novels, The Scent of Death and The Silent Boy, both featured the same characters (Edward Savill, an 18th century London clerk, and his family) and I had expected there to be more books in that series. However, The Ashes of London is something different: it’s set more than a century earlier – during the Great Fire of London of 1666 – and introduces us to a completely new set of characters.

Our narrator, James Marwood, is the son of a Fifth Monarchist who has recently been released from the Tower of London. All Marwood wants is a quiet life and the opportunity to escape the taint of his father’s disgrace – but as the flames begin to rage across London, it seems that fate has something else in store for him. While he watches St Paul’s Cathedral burn, a young woman runs past towards the fire, taking Marwood’s cloak with her. Later, a dead body is found in the ashes: a man with his thumbs tied behind his back. Marwood, who works for the government, is given the job of investigating the death.

Running parallel with his story is that of Catherine (Cat) Lovett, daughter of a regicide who was involved in the execution of King Charles I and who has been on the run since the restoration of the monarchy. As more dead bodies are discovered in the aftermath of the fire, it seems that Cat must be connected to the deaths in some way…and it’s up to Marwood to find out how.

I don’t think The Ashes of London is one of Andrew Taylor’s best books (my favourite is still The American Boy), but I did enjoy reading it. While I didn’t find it quite as atmospheric as some of his other novels, the setting was certainly a fascinating one. Not only do we witness the destruction of a city by fire and share the sense of loss felt by those who lived there, we are also given the chance to learn something about the political situation in London at that time. I previously knew almost nothing about the Fifth Monarchists, a religious sect who even during the Restoration were plotting to overthrow the monarchy and prepare for the coming of King Jesus, so I found that aspect of the story very interesting.

I enjoyed getting to know both of our main characters, James Marwood and Cat Lovett. Marwood is not a particularly memorable character in himself, but he interested me due to his background and ties with the Fifth Monarchists and regicides. Cat is a strong, independent person who knows how to look after herself, and while I couldn’t quite believe in her as a realistic 17th century woman, her actions do help to drive the plot forward. Apparently this book is the first in a new series, so I expect – and hope – that we will meet both James and Cat again.

Overall, I found The Ashes of London a good Andrew Taylor novel, if not a great one. I’m looking forward to reading the next book in this series, but while I’m waiting for it I would like to go back and read Bleeding Heart Square, the only one of his historical novels I still haven’t read yet.

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8 thoughts on “The Ashes of London by Andrew Taylor”

    1. Yes, it was interesting. I had heard of the Fifth Monarchists (I’m sure they were mentioned in another book I read set in the same period) but I had no real understanding of who they were until I read this book.

  1. I would like to become more familiar with this mystery series. Have read a little bit about the Great Fire in London. Didn’t know about the Monarchists and the coming of Jesus Christ.

  2. I had to look up Fifth Monarchists myself. Boy, it was always tough to be King in historical England. While reading your review it suddenly hit me that I could learn English history by reading historical fiction. I know, duh! But I have always been daunted by all those Kings with their Roman numerals and the same names. But where to start? Just dive in? When I read Hild and Wolf Hall, I began to see that maybe I should just jump in. And the same thing would work for other countries.

    1. Learning English history (and the history of other countries) through historical fiction is exactly what I’ve been doing over the last few years. 🙂 I find it much easier to retain facts and information by reading fiction rather than non-fiction. My advice is just to keep jumping in until you decide which time periods interest you the most.

  3. I am pleased to hear you are still enjoying Andrew Taylor’s novels – I really must keep him in mind. I have heard of the Fifth Monarchists but I know little to nothing actually about them!

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