You know when you read a book and you KNOW, like deep inside of you that you are in on something amazing? That you are reading something important. That’s how I felt reading this book, like “Wow, I’m one of the first people reading this book, and this book is going to BLOW PEOPLE AWAY.” That’s what I was thinking throughout Highfell Grimoires, from the moment I started reading I knew I was in for something remarkable. Let’s start with the genre, the book is a Steampunk novel, and without exaggerating even a little bit I can say it is the best one I’ve read in this genre, full stop. Second, it channeled some serious Victorian Gothic magic, think Brontë, think Poe, think Dickens…Think BIG, because that is exactly what the writing in this novel was. The excellent world building, the intriguing characters, twisted and fascinating foes, vulnerable and noble heroes, the piercing look at class, inequality, justice, gender biases, misogynistic societal norms, hypocrisy, kindness, love, loyalty, friendship, higher causes, greater good…The whole enchilada my friends. This novel HAS IT ALL…And then THEN, there’s Neil, Leofa and their boys.
Where do I even start? Because seriously if I wasn’t a happily married woman I would have proposed to Langley Hyde about a third into this book. But I digress, let’s talk food and drink, before I dive into the book. Like I said this book is steampunk, and set in a place very reminiscent of Victorian England (with a twist!), given the setting there is a lot of High Teas and such going on in the book. So, I wanted to make something that grooved with that as well as, something the heroes would love. I decided on Lemon Lavender Cakelets with Lemon Curd filling and a Prosecco/Limoncello Spritzer. This was bit of a labor intensive recipe, I admit, but it paid off beautifully. It’s one of the best things I’ve made. For the cocktail I infused a bottle of limoncello with lavender buds for about 10 days and it gave the spritzer a lovely flavor. I used the Cupcake brand prosecco, which is nice and dry, with lovely hint of lemon, PERFECT for this cocktail, a bottle goes for about $11.
Now the story…Neil Franklin’s life has been taken away from him. After his parent’s accidental death him and his sister are suddenly faced with a crippling family debt, and to repay it he agrees to leave the city of Herrow and his studies, to become a teacher at his uncle’s charity boarding school for boys. The school is up in an eatherium, estates that float in the air powered by aether. So he will have to leave his sister in the care of his uncle. As much as Neil loves those big floating ship-like structures in the sky, and the excitement of possibly taking part in forming young minds, he is low, because he knows he will never be able to pay the debt he owes, and his sister’a future might be in jeopardy as much as his.
Things get grimmer the moment he arrives at the school, the conditions there are less then optimal, and his students seems to be a group of disreputable urchins…And that’s not not the worst of it, the Nobsnippes, the family who runs the school seem to be pretty shady characters. Neil is not sure what he’s gotten himself into, but the more he learns of the conditions he is to live in the more he despairs. Then he meets Leofa, the “garderner” for the school who he is supposed to be roommates with (the horror), not only is the whole thing unseemly and completely below someone’s Neil social status, but Leofa makes him jumpy. He is all kinds of mysterious and confusing. He is a bit rough with Neil, yet so kind and gentle with the boys. He goes out of his way to feed them and care for them as much as he can…He is also big and beautiful, and that out of everything is the very worst part. Neil cannot have feelings for this man, it is not well regarded for two men to be “involved” and besides he’s not too sure if “gardening” is really what Leofa is getting up to wherever he spends his days…As a matter of fact some of the boys are going in there too and coming back hurt. None of this is Neil’s problem though, he cannot get attached to the boys or Leofa, what he needs is to find a way to get out of the situation he is in, the whole thing is beneath him. Not at all what he signed for, the Nobsnippes give him the creeps, they are nasty people, the boys are barely manageable and then there’s the sleeping arrangement with Leofa…Neil is in over his head, that is for sure!
From the voice (Neil is our narrator in first person POV), to the world, the characters, the toys, flying machines, intrigue, magic, secrets and romance this book was LUSCIOUS. Visually the world is gorgeous, my mind was working overtime to keep up with flying aetheriums, victorian dresses a la Tim Burton, and magical books secured with hazardous bloodlocks. Neil, like all the others, is a wonderfully developed character. He is so much a man of his time, but he has an ingrained sense of nobility and fairness, he is attached to his place in society and what it has provided for him, but he understands the injustices that exist in his world. When he is faced with the conditions which the boys he grows to care about are forced to live in, out the carelessness of others he struggles with that. He struggles with the reality that a good man like Leofa is forced to work for pennies by nasty people because of circumstances that were not his doing. It is an unfair world, and it shames him that he has never paid much attention to it before.
Then of course is what he finds in Leofa and those boys. He finds his heart and his purpose. What had never seemed important before becomes paramount, because soon he realizes that these boys and that man are important, not just to him, but they are important because they ARE. Strange things are happening and he fears they might all be in danger, nothing seems to be like he thought it was. Seems like Neil may have been living in the clouds before he got up on the aetherium, ironically, but he’s never been a coward and now is not the the time to start when his, Leofa’s, the boys and his sister’s fate are in the balance.
I won’t go into the mystery or magic because that was such a wonderful part of this book, that I will leave you to discover it yourselves. This story is nothing but goodness, the heroes are brave and valiant, the villains are twisted and grotesque…The archetypes are done exquisitely. The romance between Neil and Leofa is subtle and understated but no less was powerful and moving. I did not miss the erotica (although there were intimate moments), for me the big payoff for me came from getting to know them and their world. Not that there is not enough in their love story to make one swoon, because THERE IS! It’s a read like you don’t run across very often.
I cannot say enough good things, if I could I would make reading this novel mandatory. For steampunk and fantasy fans this is required reading. For fans of Victorian novels, also a MUST…And if you are fan of good books with good writing, go buy this book NOW.
Effusively and enthusiastically recommend. I hope beyond all hope there is a lot more from Langley Hyde coming our way in the near future, I especially hope that this one not the last form Neil, Leofa and their gang.
Highfell Grimoires will be released by Blind Eye Books and it is available for pre-order here.
For a free copy of Highfell Grimoires comment below or tweet me @readingtipsy and let me know what your favorite decadent dessert is!
Lemon-Lavender Pound Cakelets, with Lemon-Lavender Curd with Whipped Cream Topping
Adapted from The Bojon Gourmet
Be sure to use organic, culinary lavendar for these cakes. I got 4oz on Amazon for about $8.00.
For the cakes:
1 cup organic sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons dried lavender buds (ground in coffee grinder or vitamix)
4 ounces (1 stick) unsalted butter (or vegan butter spread), softened
zest of two lemons (preferably Meyers)
2 eggs, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup buttermilk (or 1/2 cup of almond milk with 1/2 a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar)
Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350º. Line 10 standard muffin cups with paper liners.
Grind the lavender buds with the sugar in a coffee grinder. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the sugar, ground lavender, butter and lemon zest. Beat on medium speed until fluffy and lightened in color, 3-4 minutes, scraping down the bowl occasionally. Add the eggs one at a time, beating until combined, scraping as needed.
In a medium bowl, sift together the dry ingredients. With the mixer on low, add half the dries, mix until combined. Add the buttermilk (or almond milk mixture), mix to combine, and then add the rest of the dries. Give the batter a final fold with a rubber spatula to make sure it is thoroughly mixed, then divide the batter among the 10 muffin cups.
Bake the cupcakes, rotating once halfway through the baking time, for 20 – 25 minutes. The tops should spring back when pressed lightly with a finger, and a tester should come out clean. Let the cakes cool for 10 minutes, then remove to a rack to cool completely.
This recipe makes about 1 cup of curd, which is twice what you will need to fill the cakes. .
zest of one lemon
1/3 cup lemon juice (preferably Meyer)
1 1/2 teaspoons lavender buds
1/3 cup sugar
2 egg yolks
2 ounces (1/2 a stick) unsalted butter, in 1″ pieces
1 tablespoon heavy cream or half and half
In a small saucepan, heat the zest, juice and buds to just below a simmer. Cover and let steep for 10 or 20 minutes, once they have steeped strain out the buds. In a medium bowl, whisk together the sugar, egg and yolks to combine. Bring the lemon juice mixture back to a bare simmer, and, whisking constantly, slowly pour into the egg mixture to temper. Return the mixture to the saucepan and cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly with a heatproof rubber spatula, scraping the sides, bottom, and corners of the pot.
Cook until thickened to the consistency of gravy, about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat, and immediately whisk in the cold butter, cream and salt until combined. Strain through a fine mesh seive and into a small bowl, lay a piece of plastic wrap on the surface of the curd, and chill in the refrigerator until needed. The curd will keep in the fridge for up to two weeks.
Lemon Lavender Whipped Cream
1 cup (6 ounces) heavy cream
1 tablespoon sugar, or to taste
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
zest of 1 lemon
1/4 teaspoon of ground lavender
Put the cream and vanilla on mixer and whip on medium for about a minute, once it starts thickening put on high until you see high peaks. Once you are done, fold in the zest and lavender.
To assemble the cakes:
Remove the paper lining once the cakes are cook. Carefully cut the cakelets across the center, spoon the lemon curd onto the bottom half then cover with the top. Put a dollop of the cream on top of each cakelet.
For the cocktail:
If you infused the limoncello, make sure you use a strainer to pour it onto a bowl or glass. Pour about one tablespoon of limoncello on a champagne flute and top with chilled prosecco.
I really do hope you give this book a try, I completely loved and think Langley Hyde is one of the most promising new voices in the genre. The cakes were kind of a special project, so I wouldn’t be offended if the challenge to make them is not taken up!
Cheers and Happy Reading!