Andrew Caldecott 2017. Rotherweird. London: Jo Fletcher Books. 456 pp.

Andrew Caldecott is a QC who defended the Guardian in the Leveson Inquiry into the British phone hacking scandal, among many privacy- and media-related cases. He is also a successful playwright. It is hardly surprising then that the book received a benevolent review in the Guardian. But well it might.

The spiffing cover captures the vibe of the book and accurately raises expectations.

The story begins in Elizabethan times in this parallel Britain where science and magic seem inverted. Ten child prodigies are saved from execution by being secretly sent to isolation where they discover new natural phenomena but receive some unfortunate guidance and Bad Things happen. But Good Folk win the day and cover up the evidence. The descendants, still brilliant in various ways, found the town of Rotherweird where to keep the Dark Past safely hidden, they are isolated from Britain and from their own history. In modern times the ancient battle resumes and this is the bulk of the novel.

The narrative is rollicking and the chapters are short (no doubt a skill learned early by QCs). The characters are well drawn and I enjoyed them a lot, and the list of characters in the front matter was useful during acclimatisation. There are enough references to modern physics that the book must be in part an imagining of parallel universes. But although there are also other fairly obvious parables on the value of science, of history, and of outsiders. Even a little message on the importance of maintaining urban infrastructure (perhaps there has been trouble with the drains in Andrew Caldecott’s street?). Despite all this I was not as rewarded by rich layers of meaning as I had hoped. And yet, the resolution was way more intricate than it needed to be. See how hard I am to please?

Nevertheless a very enjoyable yarn. Apparently it is intended to become a trilogy and I’ll enjoy the next volumes when the moment is right.