Whoever Silas Mercer was, he has no recollection of it. In fact, his first real memory is of clawing his way out of a grave. The next thing he knows, he’s been inducted into a network of powerful people who call themselves the Order of the Golden Dawn. Grateful for the assistance with providing him a home, food, clothes, and more, Silas is willing to try to fulfil the position they have for him: ankou, a servant of death. Armed with nothing but a bandalore–a yoyo–and even less knowledge of how exactly such a tool could possibly be of use, Silas goes out into the gaslit streets and tries to fulfil his new duties. The first test of his abilities is guiding one departed soul beyond the realm of the living. It is equal parts terrifying for all that he does not know and satisfying when he finally understands the good he can do.
But there is a bigger problem plaguing the town. There are tales of what the order calls a teratism, lost souls left so long without closure that they turn violent. At least the Order has found it fit to provide Silas, still extremely green and unsure of his full role as ankou, with some help in the form of Tobias Astaroth, also called Pitch. The man appears like a waifish fop and acts twice as terrible. His biting tongue never spares Silas a smart remark or sharp criticism about his dress or size or even his lack of understanding about the whole of the paranormal world. Yet the man can be as instrumental as he is infuriating. Silas slowly learns to trust Pitch. But any attempts to get beyond the man’s incredible bluster and bombast are often met with blunt rebuffs. Only when Silas manages to overhear Pitch utter the name Raph does he discover a tool to perhaps lift the thick, decorative skin of his partner. Unfortunately, Pitch has been magically compelled to never speak about his past and the very fact that Silas heard the name at all is almost as baffling as why the Order picked Silas for a role he isn’t sure he can entirely fulfil.
The Bandalore is a historical paranormal adventure and the first installment in the Pitch & Sickle series. Set in 1885 London, the world is as sumptuous as Silas’ situation is suspenseful. Though the narration is in third person, we still get a great sense of Silas’ puzzlement and frustration with waking up in a grave, having no recollection of his life before and no clear understanding of how or why the Order wants him to work for them. The balance between building Silas’ world and developing the lost soul/teratism plot was struck well. Everything is new and unfamiliar for Silas as he adjusts to learning not only is there a whole separate world full of magic and mythical beings, but that he is supposed to take an active part in it. The wonder and enormous trepidation he feels about this filled me with equal emotion.
In addition to an engrossing setting and delightfully well described historical world, I thought Silas and Tobias were engaging characters. Silas is, well, an innocent. He is virtually a blank slate, though he has a strong sense of propriety and of justice. Though physically he cuts an imposing figure, the man has a gentle heart and a lot of patience. He needs both dealing with the whirlwind discoveries he makes. He seems amazed that non-magical or non-paranormal people have virtually zero awareness of the magic that abounds, even when it is the source of their sorrow–like children gone missing or feeling unwell. I really enjoyed Silas as the vehicle through which the action is and must be conveyed. He wants to help, but lacks any concrete advice on how to go about doing so. There is a lot of trial and error and terror on his part. Tobias unhelpfully gives Silas a hard time every step of the way.
Tobias is a delightful thorn in Silas’ side. While I was hopeful that these two would fall madly in love with one another, they only learn to tolerate one another by the end of this book. If you are a fan of slow burns, this is one of the slowest burn I’ve encountered in all my years reviewing. By the end of the book, there is a sweetly awkward attempt at a kiss that lacks passion and heat. It seems more experimental and Silas is quick to blame it on Tobias being ready, willing, and able to draw anyone into his bed (let me be explicit: there is no explicit content between Silas and Tobias in this book). Having read partly through the third book, Personally, I enjoyed wondering if Silas’ unknown past and Tobias’ inability to discuss his own past will have a hand in when and how these two get together.
Overall, I just loved the pacing of this book. The slow and thorough way Silas learns his new nature felt so delightfully organic to me. I appreciated the care Girl takes in fleshing out this alternate history of London and how paranormal activity fits into it. There is a lot of imagery being melded together–angels and daemons from Christianity and Japanese yokai for example–without just hanging Silas’ whole world on these elements. The dynamic between Silas and Tobias is a delightful almost enemies-to-lovers, without actually getting to the lovers part and Tobias just barely finding it in himself to lift a finger to help in desperate times. I devoured this book and if you enjoy slow burn, paranormal stories with colorful characters and a strong opposites (eventually) attract build up, then I highly recommend this book.