It is London, 1756. In his Bloomsbury attic sits Dr Sabian Blake – astronomer, scientist, and master of the Kabbalah. Dr Blake is in possession of the Nemorensis, an ancient leather-bound book that holds the secrets of the universe. Scribbled into one of its margins is a mysterious prophecy and deciphering it could prove the key to saving London from a catastrophic fate. But there are others interested in the Nemorensis too, for more sinister reasons . . .
Wormwood is an allegorical fantasy novel, with strong Christian imagery throughout. The story centres around a book called the Nemorensis, seen by some as a fount of knowledge and others the Devil’s work. Dr Sabian Blake, owner of Nemorensis at the beginning of the book, finds a prediction in the book of a comet, Wormwood, falling to Earth and destroying London.
The ideas in this book are huge; quite literally astronomical, in fact. The characters are incredibly well crafted, all with full and unique personalities. Given the sheer number of major characters, this is quite the feat in itself. The plot snakes well, constantly twisting and turning – even just the basic storyline is massively complex. Add on to these things the background context, historical and geographical setting, lore and all the other meatier details and you have yourself a book bursting at the seams. While it’s a clearly incredibly well thought out world and story, this was the downfall for me.
The narrative flicks between characters often. You’re never entirely sure who you’re following and that often means you’re never entirely sure what’s going on. I feel like there are too many twists and too many characters for a book this size to work. The plot bumps into itself all the time, the characters are all trying to take centre stage and the reader is often left scratching their head. Personally, I don’t like novels that are too busy and that’s just what this is. It didn’t leave me enough time to connect with the characters properly. I’ll also say that one thing that annoyed me was the suggestion of human characters being there for the Great Fire of London 90 years before the book is set.
Saying that, there were bits I enjoyed. Longer sections centring on the same character/s were very enjoyable, and I liked the tone – it felt a lot like The Da Vinci Code, only in 1756. The book is like Marmite. Goodreads reviewers either sing its praises or loathe it entirely. Unlike Marmite, I didn’t love it, but I didn’t hate it either; there were moments I thoroughly enjoyed, but overall it didn’t really do it for me.
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