Book Review: THE DROWNED CITY by K. J. Maitland

Title in white on navy above gold waves
Genre: Historical Mystery
Age Range: Adult
Star Rating: 4 stars
Series: first book


Book cover for THE DROWNED CITY a line-drawing esque graphic of a columned passage with waves in it

1606. A year to the day that men were executed for conspiring to blow up Parliament, a towering wave devastates the Bristol Channel. Some proclaim God’s vengeance. Others seek to take advantage.

In London, Daniel Pursglove lies in prison waiting to die. But Charles FitzAlan, close adviser to King James I, has a job in mind that will free a man of Daniel’s skill from the horrors of Newgate. If he succeeds.

For Bristol is a hotbed of Catholic spies, and where better for the lone conspirator who evaded arrest, one Spero Pettingar, to gather allies than in the chaos of a drowned city? Daniel journeys there to investigate FitzAlan’s lead, but soon finds himself at the heart of a dark Jesuit conspiracy – and in pursuit of a killer.

Blurb taken from Goodreads. Add to your shelves here.


THE DROWNED CITY is a great historical mystery set in a city awash with rogues taking advantage of disaster, religious bigots using the disaster to promote their own ends, and lots of people who don’t want questions asked.

This is a historical fiction full of tension and small details, weaving a new story around the pillars of history, imagining what might have happened among the chaos. It works so well, giving you both the sense of being deeply rooted in place and time while having the freedom to imagine and create something new.

The Stuarts era is full of suspicion, with spies under Robert Cecil (who we see in this book.) The story makes full use of the watchful, doubtful era and the inability to trust anyone is really telling the truth. I particularly enjoyed the suspicions over Daniel’s true mission – find the truth, or find a scapegoat?

The main mystery in Bristol is narrated from Daniel’s perspective, first person past tense. Bookending this is his time in London, which was narrated in third person past tense, while scattered among his investigations were break aways to time in London seeing what other characters were doing (also third person past tense.) The different narrative types helped keep them all separate, know whether you were dealing with the investigation or a cutaway.

The cutaways very much felt like they were setting up something that would weave over future books, introducing characters unrelated to the mystery in Bristol and showing the wider atmosphere of fear and suspicion at court and in the country at large.

This is the first book in the series, with the second one already out and a third on its way next year. I am certainly interested in continuing to read them as it feels like there is going to be an overarching mystery tying them together.

Read my reviews of other books by K. J. Maitland:

Daniel Pursglove (this series):

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