First things first, let me just say I was offered a copy of this book (by Tickety Boo Press) in exchange for a fair and honest review.
The book is a re-issue (originally published in 1991) but has aged well and does not feel out of place in today's market. The actual writing style (and believe me, Ms. Edgerton has a very sumptuous prose style) means the story reads like one of the classics. Imagine, if you will, Charles Dickens, Jane Austen and Terry Pratchett writing together (with possibly a hint of Stan Lee) and you will have an idea of what to expect.
The setting is a 'Regency-esque' one with what I tend to think of as an Upstairs/Downstairs cast of characters. You have the upper classes (the sickly Elsie, her companion Sera, the foppish Lord Skelbrooke - who may be more than he seems), and the lower classes (represented by the likes of Caleb Braun and his grand-nephew Jedidiah). Add to this Dwarves, Gnomes, Goblins, Trolls etc. and you have a varied and colourful assembly.
The story starts with Caleb and Jedidiah working as river scavengers (as the name implies they make their living scavaging what they can from the river). What they find when they open a coffin they have 'retrieved' as it floats downriver sets up one strand of the story. There is plenty going on though besides this, but not enough to make it over complicated. What keeps the story tied together nicely is that most of the main characters know each other, even though they move in different circles most of the time (Jenk, the antiquarian book dealer is Grandfather to Sera, Caleb ends up working for Jenk, Sera and Jedidiah have known each other for years...so on and so forth)
As a fantasy novel it is quite unlike most other stories in the genre - and that is a good thing. There are no sprawling quests or epic journeys here, just a dark brooding city that feels not unlike Pratchett's Ankh Morpork at times. A city with more than its' fair share of undesirables, a city with places you don't want to be after dark (to be honest, places you don't want to be in broad daylight!), a city in need of...........A HERO!!
There were moments I found myself holding my breath as I read, and moments I felt like giving a rousing "Hurrah!" A thoroughly enjoyable read and a book I think will be just right now that the nights are drawing in. If I did find a downside, my only real gripe (and it is a tiny one really) was that there seemed to be a lot of clothing terms I didn't know and had to look up - but that's just me and will not stop me from giving a rating of 4.5 out of 5. I look forward to reading the next in the series when it comes out.