Review by Ulysses Dietz
Member of The Paranormal Guild Review Team
I have always expected Alex Beecroft to give me beautiful, literate writing, and to take me places that the usual romance writers don’t go. She doesn’t disappoint in Sons of Devils. The only reason I knocked off a star from my review is because this book and its sequel, Angels of Istanbul, should rightly be one volume. Beecroft has tackled a complicated group of intertwined narratives (with uncanny logic based on careful research), and the structure of the first book brings in a major narrative very late, leaving an ending that, for me, is the worst possible kind of cliffhanger. This feels like a large book chopped in half, not the first part of a series. I read Sons of Devils without knowing about the sequel and it left me confused and, frankly, irritated.
Of course, I purchased the sequel immediately and will read it and review it here immediately. My guess is that Beecroft will earn back her fifth star.
Sons of Devils is a double-layered paranormal story. We have a group of young English scholars, led by Frank Carew, venturing into Wallachia in 1742. They are searching for something called a vril accumulator, a magical power source reactivated by the rising of the lost city of Atlantis in 1730. The Rising has given people all over the world, including Carew, magic powers they don’t quite understand. Carew was studying magic at Oxford when he was forced to flee England, disgraced and fearing for his life.
The second layer of paranormality comes from the scholars’ locale: they are in Wallachia, which any vampire buff will know immediately as the home of Vlad Tepes, the historical Count Dracula. When disaster strikes, Frank finds himself alone and amnesiac from a beating. He is rescued and taken to the castle of the local boyar, Radu Vacarescu. There, as he is nursed back to health, he realizes that he’s jumped out of the frying pan and into the fire. Radu is as much a prisoner in his own castle as he is its master.
Just as Stoker’s Dracula was an epic novel that covered two continents, so should Sons of Devils have been. Beecroft is an artist, and she weaves the story about Frank and Radu skillfully and slowly. This is no bodice-ripper; it is a slow awakening as Frank gradually remembers who he is, and begins to understand Radu’s place in the dark drama in which he is entrapped. Beecroft throws in another vivid character, a Roma girl named Mirela Badi, whom Frank rescues from certain death, and who has acquired magical powers of her own since the Rising of Atlantis. But Mirela does not seem to achieve full importance in this first book. Her ultimate role is unclear, if tantalizing.
A full two-thirds of the way into the book, an entirely new narrative appears. It is titled “Book Two” by Beecroft, but it is a story that is laid out for us richly without any sort of resolution. This is the point where I knew I was reading a truncated epic and that I was going to be annoyed at the end. (But I also knew there had to be a second book out there.) Here we find another young scholar of magic, Zayd Ibn Rahman, who is the hereditary caretaker of the grand mausoleum of an Ottoman saint in Istanbul. Having witnessed a disastrous cultural misunderstanding between a British warship and the Sultan’s private barge, Zayd finds himself dragged into the Topkapi palace and into the presence of the sultan himself. This second storyline unleashes a whole, gruesome series of events that leave Zayd fearing for his life and faced with an impossible task as his only salvation.
The Epilogue for the book is a brilliantly spun horror story right out of one of Clive Barker’s bloodiest novels. It brings the British and the Ottoman Turks into conflict, and suggests a possible avenue for the connection of Frank’s story with Zayd’s. But then it is over, and it left me churning emotionally, even as I was impressed with Alex Beecroft’s brilliant writing.
There is precious little romance in this book—only the potential for romance. It is the kind of book that will frustrate readers of M/M fiction—but not readers who are looking for superior romantic fiction with gay characters. I can’t wait to start Angels of Istanbul, but would have been willing to pay extra not to have this story so bluntly cut in two.