The Last Seal (The Praesidium Series, Book #1)
by Richard Denning
Release Date: July 20, 2011
2011 Mercia Books (Paperback Edition; 382 Pages)
Ebook Edition; 343 Pages
Genre: Fiction / Historical / Paranormal / Young Adult
Source: Review Copy from Author
4 / 5 Stars
September 1666: a struggle between two secret societies threatens to destroy London. Three hundred years previously the Praesidum defeated and incarcerated a demon beneath the city. Now the Liberati aim to release it and gain its power for themselves.
Agents of the King are seeking four suspected foreign spies who are, in reality, disparate and unlikely heroes: GABRIEL, the sole remaining member of the Praesidum, crippled by his fear of failure; FREYA, a young thief orphaned by the Great Plague, driven by poverty and self-interest; TOBIAS, a cynical physician, obsessed by his desire for vengeance against the Liberati cavalier who killed his father, and finally and most vitally, BEN, a Westminster schoolboy, whose guilt over his parents' death threatens to destroy him. Yet these four must overcome their personal problems and work together if they are to foil the evil plans of the Liberati, protect the city and gain the means to defeat the demon.
Thrown together by chance when Ben finds an ancient scroll revealing the location of arcane seals that bind the demon beneath London, the story launches into a battle between the Liberati and Praesidium, a battle which takes place within the Great Fire of London. Ultimately, Ben and his friends must confront and defeat both the demon and the evils of the Liberati to save their city and themselves.
Set amidst the Great Fire of London in 1666, The Last Seal is an interesting twist on how the fire first sparked, using demons, magic, and sorcery as the reasons behind why it lasted for five days and destroyed so much of the city. Using the age-old struggle between good and evil as the basis for the story, The Last Seal is a story about the battle between two secret societies, one of which wants only to raise a demon in order to have ultimate power on earth and the other spends all its time and resources on preventing this from ever happening. Woven realistically within the historical context of the Great Fire, with amazing detail that displays how much research went into this work, The Last Seal is a novel full of action, adventure, magic, and secrets.
One of the things I really enjoyed about this novel was the incredible attention to detail in the historical sense. With great attention to detail, Mr. Denning wove a story around the Great Fire in such a way that I could feel London burning and grieve for a place that was falling down around the characters' feet. The descriptions were such that I actually felt like I was there, and I'm still amazed that people did not panic when it first began, considering the drought and lack of resources to put out the flames. While I knew that the Great Fire actually began at a bakery and rapidly spread from there, using a demon to start the fire instead was believable as it was woven quite subtly into the story. My issue was some of the narrow escapes some of the characters faced as I'm sure they would have succumbed to smoke inhalation in the normal sense, but I tended to overlook that and just went with the story. There was also the implication that many people died and I rather liked that as I can't imagine that such a fire would have had only a few deaths and I tend to believe that many more people died and their bodies cremated in the awful heat of the inferno.
Ben and Freya were two of the main characters and they are a complete contrast in study. Ben is a well-to-do young man who gets caught up in the idea of inheriting powerful sorcery and constantly struggles with the concept of doing the honourable thing towards others or grabbing the power for himself. He is also dealing with the aftermath of his parents' death and the guilt he carries from that night. I enjoyed his flawed character as it made him more real, even if I didn't always like his choices or his actions. Freya however, I enjoyed tremendously as I found her concept of honour, even though she was a thief, rather intriguing. While she thought nothing of pilfering others' belongings in order to survive, she had ethics and morals that were quite impressive and would never leave anyone behind no matter the danger to her person. The rest of the characters were interesting as well and I was glad to see Gabriel had issues too. I particularly loved the scene when Gabriel meets his old headmaster again and is reduced to the status of a child; it's quite funny and it reminds me that even as adults we never forget how we behaved as children and those of whom we were afraid. The camaraderie that builds up between the main players was quite nice to see and I was glad that it developed as I really liked all of the main characters.
The Last Seal was an enjoyable novel that moved quickly from scene to scene, hardly giving one time to breathe between events. Set amidst a time of terrible tragedy for London, it is also a historical treat for those of us who really enjoy learning about the past. Written in an easy style, it is highly recommended for readers of any age who enjoy historical fiction with a twist of paranormal. I am definitely looking forward to the next book in this series when it is released.