Hats off to Brandenburg by Graham Thomas
Review by Jasper de Joode
London, 1815 – The Roxy Playhouse is in trouble!
The Roxy Playhouse Irregulars, those libertine artists and dreamers, are up to their necks in debt – “Pay up in one month or its curtains for you all.” Dark times lead to drastic schemes and so the Irregulars decide to reinvent themselves as ‘performance thieves’, infiltrate High Society and ‘Robin Hood’ their way through it. However, getting embroiled in a dark and deadly plot to destroy the Monarchy was never part of their script. The Roxy Irregulars will have to stage the performance of their lives if they want to save the day and make it home in time for last orders.
Hats off to Brandenburg is the first book of a new series entitled The Roxy Compendium and written by Graham Thomas. It assumed that the series will run to a total off 12 books, 6 featuring a large ongoing adventure and 6 smaller spin-offs which will concentrate on several characters from the “Brandenburg” universe. When I first read the synopsis I had high hopes for the book, hopes that were more than satisfied! How Thomas transforms the story as it progresses is just marvellous and the right decision was made in not giving away too much in the blurb.
First off the setting. Hats off to Brandenburg takes place in England in the early 19th century (not an alternate England). The descriptions and scenes used throughout the book not only lived up perfectly to what I had already read in history novels, but made it far better in every way. The scenes are so vividly described it was like I was standing right there as they played out.
Then the cast. There are two characters on which Thomas primarily focusses in the story: Archibald Enflield and Benjamin Ananas. Archibald – or Archie – was for me the most enjoyable character, he is capable of being funny, witty, serious and an asshole all in the blink of an eye. Benjamin also has a lot of play, owing much to his rich history that unfolds as the story progresses. BUT it is the interactions between the two that I loved the most. The other Roxy Irregulars all play their own parts too, each with their own expertise like playwriting, rope-walking or sleight-of-hand and Thomas uses each and every character brilliantly. And what would this Robin Hood inspired story be without the rich to steal from? The High Society features several engaging characters complete their rich clothing and a snobbish outlook on life.
From the very first chapter Thomas produces the ambiance of England in the early 19th century. His descriptions of the street layouts, the actions of the characters, the Roxy Playhouse, the taverns, the love-making and leaving before the husband return jumping out of a window, was just spot on. With 12 books planned it was noticable that Thomas invested a lot off time in creating foundations in the Brandenburg universe.
Hats off to brandenburg runs to 714 pages and a third of the way in it seemed that the plot was done and dusted. However, the story was transformed into something new and it was this transformation that won me over completely. I found the first third enjoyable but the rest just blew me away – it was funny, engaging, sad at times and more than I could have ever have hoped for! The writing was crisp and well structured ( the book consists of 5 different parts) and Thomas uses the layout of the chapters to good effect.
You would expect that that the fights between the Roxy Irregulars and the bad guys would result in wins for the Irregulars. On the contrary. Although the Irregulars each have their forte they are not invincible and this becomes apparent throughout the book. I found this a big plus, with even Irregulars having “their curtains closed” (as they would have said it). It made the book much more realistic and engaging and furthermore left me guessing about might happen (I was wrong most of the time).
Hats off to Brandenburg is a stunning piece off work with a well-structured storyline and characters that are more than likable. The jump from one plot to a much bigger plot was brilliantly done. Hats off to Brandenburg is a worthy addition to anyone’s bookshelf. I know it made an entry in my top 10 all time favourites! All I can say is: “Sit back, relax and enjoy the show”. I hope the Roxy Irregulars are here to stay!
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