There was a time in England when almost everyone believed the literal truth in the Bible. Most people believed in many forms of superstition too. Most people’s lives were tough beyond description and the constant fear of disease, death and human disaster perpetuated this belief in magic. In 1653, England had just come out the other end of a major Civil War and Cromwell was ruler of the fledging republic. Around 200,000 died during the conflict out of a population of about 5 million. It is no wonder people put their faith so strongly in God. Beal’s concept for Gideon’s Angel is that these beliefs and superstitions were true. Imagine a history where magic was real and demons manipulated the God-fearing populous in a battle for the soul of the nation.
Meet Richard Treadwell. An exiled Royal officer, who is now a soldier-for-hire. He returns home determined to kill Cromwell and restore the royals to their rightful place. However, he comes across Gideon Fludd, who believes himself to be on a mission from God. Treadwell, under an alias, discovers that Fludd’s angel is not all it seems. Treadwell embarks on a mission, with the help of astrologers and Masons – and with the familiar character of D’Artagnan determined to take him back to France – which turns his loyalties around as he tries to save Cromwell, and England, from the grip of Hell.
Beal is from Providence, Rhode Island, but worked at editor-in-chief of Jane’s Defence Weekly in London. I know very little of the history from this period in time, but I assume he has done his research. His writing convinces that there is some accuracy in the historical events. Character names, such as Treadwell, Fludd and more seem genuine. Descriptions of the superstitions of the time, as well as how the Masons operate appear authentic. The language he writes in, and the dialogue, has a historical tone, although I don’t know how real it is. It feels like a historical novel. Although I’m not sure why he feels the need for most of the locations to have the ‘stench of piss’ – surely if everything did always smell of urine, no-one would notice.
So, Treadwell and his companion travel from the south west of England, pursued by Fludd and his demons. There is, of course, a love interest for our anti-hero. There are scenes in pubs and in shady backrooms. Despite not having read anything set in this era, it all felt very familiar. Most of the plot points turn on coincidences. Not exactly deus ex machina, but characters, both those we have been introduced to and others only mentioned, turn up at vital moments to drive the narrative forward or to save the day. It all feels a little forced. Almost as if every time Treadwell found himself in a pickle, the author could not think of a reasonable way out. Yet, I really enjoyed the book. The characters were interesting, if shallow. The demons were traditional, yet imaginative. The elements of horror were well described and you felt for Treadwell as events, both supernatural and human, constantly conspired against him. The tone reminded me a little of the film Witchfinder General, even though the stories have little in common – although obviously set a few years apart.
Gideon’s Angel is not about anything in particular. There is no depth or subtext to the tale. I can’t speculate on its historical worth either. However, it is an enjoyable take on traditional historic horror with religious fantasy thrown in. Beal is a fine writer with a good imagination and a decent eye for characters. You go with these characters as they journey into darkness and you rejoice when they find the light at the end of the novel.