At the Table of Wolves

As you know, I was a big fan of Kay Kenyon's The Entire and the Rose and I've always felt that she never got the credit she deserved for that science fiction series. In any event, I wasn't even aware that she had started writing a new project titled the Dark Talents. I never received a galley for the first volume, At the Table of Wolves, so I was surprised when the author emailed me to inquire if I'd be interested in an ARC of the second installment.

Kenyon quickly hooked me up with digital editions of both books and I was happy to upload them on my tablet so I could bring them along for my Central American adventure. And since I've been going through my reading material at an alarming rate, I was glad to have them with me. The more so because I went through At the Table of Wolves in just a few sittings.

I was a bit concerned that it would be too similar to Ian Tregillis' excellent Milkweed Triptych trilogy, which is one of the very best speculative fiction series of the new millennium, but Kay Kenyon's series is a totally different beast. The premise might bear resemblance to that of Tregillis, true, but the plots are completely different.

Here's the blurb:

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy meets X-Men in a classic British espionage story. A young woman must go undercover and use her superpowers to discover a secret Nazi plot and stop an invasion of England.

In 1936, there are paranormal abilities that have slowly seeped into the world, brought to the surface by the suffering of the Great War. The research to weaponize these abilities in England has lagged behind Germany, but now it’s underway at an ultra-secret site called Monkton Hall.

Kim Tavistock, a woman with the talent of the spill—drawing out truths that people most wish to hide—is among the test subjects at the facility. When she wins the confidence of caseworker Owen Cherwell, she is recruited to a mission to expose the head of Monkton Hall—who is believed to be a German spy.

As she infiltrates the upper-crust circles of some of England’s fascist sympathizers, she encounters dangerous opponents, including the charismatic Nazi officer Erich von Ritter, and discovers a plan to invade England. No one believes an invasion of the island nation is possible, not Whitehall, not even England’s Secret Intelligence Service. Unfortunately, they are wrong, and only one woman, without connections or training, wielding her talent of the spill and her gift for espionage, can stop it.

The worldbuilding was quite interesting and opens up countless possibilities. Nobody is quite sure just how the bloom came about, but it is generally believed that the deaths and the suffering engendered by World War I generated the birth of the Talents, those supernatural abilities, in ordinary men and women the world over. The Nazis have risen to power and Germany is rearming, preparing for what is to come. The British, with their heads up their asses, refuse to face the fact that war is coming again. Which is why they are about a decade behind the Germans in terms of training people with Talents for warfare. There is so much room for growth concerning the Talents and I'm looking forward to see where Kenyon will take her story in the sequels. What we saw in At the Table of Wolves barely scratches the surface and the potential for more is enormous.

I enjoyed the fact that the military and the secret services screwed up their only chance to discover what the Germans are preparing and it comes down to an ordinary woman with a peculiar Talent to try to save her country. Intelligence warns of an impending attack and something that has to do with a storm, but the British have few details to help them pinpoint the time and the place where the invasion would be staged. Moreover, the British government refuses to take the threat seriously, claiming that their superior fleet could handle whatever the Germans can send their way. Hence, a few people with very little resources must find a way to obtain proof of the danger by putting their lives on the line. Ordinary people who must now accomplish extraordinary things.

Kim Tavistock, a former journalist who got fired in the USA, is back home and now works for the British government. Unbeknownst to her father, who is also a spy deep undercover, due to her Talent she has been recruited by Monkton Hall. Untrained in the arts of espionage, due to the spill she nevertheless finds herself in the middle of a conspiracy that goes well beyond what she ever imagined possible. Her innocence will burn her a few times, but when her life is at risk and the odds are stacked against her Kim will have no choice but to bite the bullet and try to make the best of numerous bad situations. She will soon realize that she must quickly get out of the hole she dug herself into, or else become a casualty in a war that is about to begin.

The supporting cast is made up of a number of compelling characters, chief among them Julian, Kim's father, Erich von Ritter, the German spy, Georgi Aberdare, the femme fatale, and Owen Cherwell, her colleague who's in over his head with this spying mission. There are also some poignant scenes involving Rose, a mentally challenged maid. Kim and her father offer the dominant perspectives throughout the novel, but there are additional POVs that allow readers to witness events unfolding through the eyes of other protagonists. All in all, the balance between the points of view worked rather well.

At the Table of Wolves is paced just right. As the misunderstandings between Kim and her father pile up, for both are undercover and can't tell the other the truth about themselves, the tension builds up toward an endgame that delivers a satisfying finale.

In many ways, At the Table of Wolves is an introduction to a bigger and more ambitious tale. It will be interesting to see how the aftermath plays out in the forthcoming second volume, Serpent in the Heather.

There is a lot to love about this alternate history fantasy novel, and for some reason it has flown under the radar since it was released a few months back. Here's to hoping that this review will entice readers to give it a shot.

The final verdict: 7.5/10

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