Review: The Hanged Man by P.N. Elrod (Her Majesty’s Psychic Service #1)


The Hanged Man by PN Elrod // VBC ReviewThe Hanged Man (Her Majesty’s Psychic Service #1)
P.N. Elrod
Published: May 19, 2015 (Tor Books)
Purchase: Book Depository or Amazon
Review source: copy provided by publisher in exchange for a honest review

Reviewed by: Jo

Rating (out of 5): 4 stars

In an alternative Victorian London, Queen Victoria never married Prince Albert. Instead, whilst wandering the country in disguise, she was rescued by and then married a peer. During her reign, the Empire has expanded, women have been given the vote and the Queen commissioned a new special branch—The Psychic Service—to investigate, and harness, the supernatural in the Empire’s interest.

Alexandrina Pendlebury is a Reader for the Psychic service; she uses her ability to sense emotional imprints at crime scenes and those suspected. Very early Christmas morning she is called to what appears to be a suicide, although Alex’s talents tell her this was murder. And the killer has done something impossible—left no emotional imprint at all.

Victorian London is fast becoming one of my favorite backdrops for fantasy and here it’s fog-filled, cobbled streets lend themselves perfectly. The Hanged Man strikes a great balance of the supernatural elements being both full incorporated and at the same time sinister and unknown. I found the comparative progressiveness of this alternate history really interesting, particularly concerning women’s rights and freedoms, and yet there were still social and gender politics bubbling under the surface. I loved the construction of the Psychic Service and that, since it is a relatively new institution, there is still distrust towards it from the more conventional government branches. As Alex delves further into the mystery of the “ghost” we discover alongside her there is more to the supernatural world than even she knew and that the higher up the Service goes the bigger the secrets.

Alex is a complex protagonist: smart, pragmatic but has clearly suffered emotionally due to her ‘gift’. I really liked that the plot in this, the first book, was already incredibly personal to her, her troubled family issues playing a major role. I felt like I got to understand her character on an intimate level and was quickly routing for her. It feels like she has been isolated for a long time before we meet her and I’m hoping some of the friendships she begins here will open up her character even more. In particular, the tentative-possible-maybe relationship she could have with new recruit Lieutenant Brooks. Romance is not a strong factor in Alex’s motivation—her psychic abilities make it difficult to be close to some one when she can always tell what the they are feeling or if they’re lying—but what she feels from Brooks surprises her. Under the strong and silent, he seems genuinely kind and brave; I can’t wait to see if and what blossoms between them. I also thoroughly enjoyed watching Alex and her rakish cousin James bounce off each other; I really hope we’ll see plenty more of him.

The plot has bags of occult mystery and bounces ‘round the variety of this Victorian London, from glittering high society parties to shady docks and all that’s in between, to give it real flavor. It’s combination with runaway carriage chases, Victorian SWAT teams and undercover missions made for a really interesting ebb and flow of action and intrigue. The steampunk elements are subtler than I’ve come across in other books but work seamlessly within this world.

Sherlock Holmes meets the Parasol Protectorate, The Hanged Man is a brilliantly atmospheric read. As a series opener, it has left me intrigued on every level; I want to see what more this world has to offer, where these character go from here and what will be become of the Empire in this alternative history.

Sexual content: none

4 Responses to “Review: The Hanged Man by P.N. Elrod (Her Majesty’s Psychic Service #1)”

  1. Amy says:

    This sounds great! Adding to my TBR list now. Great Review!

  2. Margaret says:

    All I’ve ever read from Elrod are the anthologies she edits with Charlaine Harris but I saw this on Goodreads the other day and thought it sounded good. Glad you liked it. Added to wish list.

  3. Kelsey C. says:

    I’ve got this sitting in my pile from the library, and now your review just makes me want to read it more.

  4. Nell Justice says:

    I really want to read this book and your review confirms it! Thanks!

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