Lord of the Night reviews the brilliant sequel to The Singular and Extraordinary Tale of Mirror and Goliath, the second volume in The Peculiar Adventures of John Loveheart, ESQ; The Contrary Tale of the Butterfly Girl by Ishbelle Bee.

"A sequel that somehow manages to surpass the original for protagonist insanity, villain nastiness, and the amount of severed heads taken. A returning cast combined with new and wonderfully strange characters with a story that pits Loveheart against the highest power in the land, Bee is on top form with her wonderfully wicked second novel. Her debut was no fluke, this woman is an author to watch!" - Lord of the Night @ Talk Wargaming


After finishing Mirror and Goliath in a day, putting it down at any point did NOT occur to me, I immediately checked to see if there were more novels about John Loveheart planned; and oh joy there was. TCTotBG had as interesting a premise as the first novel, it sounded like it would be strange, filled with lots of fairy tale wonder and slasher-movie gore, and that it would be hilarious. So I pre-ordered it and just yesterday I finished it, like the original in a single day. And any concern that I might have had that the sequel would fall short of the original or that Bee wouldn't be able to replicate the magic of the first book was utterly annihilated; if anything this book is even crazier with even nastier villains, stranger heroes and heroines and a story with even stranger twists. And yet none of it felt rehashed from the first book, the two heroines could not be more distinct from each other, the story contains a very different kind of threat than the original, and the situation for the leads is a markedly different one as some find themselves in positions of power they didn't have before and others find themselves plunged into a mystery the likes of which they have never dealt with before.

In the sinister village of Darkwound there are a number of odd blighters; such as the reclusive Professor Hummingbird who collects butterflies, and who just so happens to have attracted the wrath of a demon known as Mr Angelcakes. When two orphans, Pedrock and Boo Boo Frogwish, arrive in Darkwound to live with their relatives, Mr Angelcakes pays Boo Boo a visit and carves a butterfly onto her back, turning her into a hybrid of butterfly and little girl and a candidate for Professor Hummingbird's seventh wife. Directed to kill the professor and steal his prize, Boo Boo's fate seems sealed. But the two orphans have a friend who just might be able to save Boo Boo and kill the nasty old professor; John Loveheart, ESQ, once a mere Prince of the Underworld, now it's lord and master, and he's not too fond of those bad people who hurt children. But can Loveheart stop a powerful mad sorcerer and a skin-eating demon and save the little orphan girl from a fate worse than death, even with the help of Detective White and Constable Walnut? Or will the newly raised Lord of the Underworld's first case as a free man be his last? And what does all this have to do with a cult with black butterflies tattooed on their backs and the Prime Minister of Britain?

The story in TCTotBG has everything that made TSaEToMaG great and more, but it has plenty of differences as well. The sequel has a more linear storyline than the original did, rather than showing the final confrontation and then flashbacking to the character's pasts and showing how all of it came about as the original did, the sequel builds up the story more slowly; showing how Boo Boo and Pedrock come to Darkwound and how they attract the attention of Professor Hummingbird, and what that does to Boo Boo and how it leads the orphans to John Loveheart and his friends. That said however this is an Ishbelle Bee novel, and so the story does take plenty of bizarre twists and unexpected turns, there's even some time dilation involved. But it never becomes too complex that the reader cannot understand what is happening and why it has happened, though the latter comes usually after revelations by the characters or plot advancement. Unlike the original TCTotBG does not spread itself over multiple characters in multiple stories, rather it focuses on John Loveheart as he explores his new position as Lord of the Underworld and the powers that it grants him, Pedrock and Boo Boo as their lives take a very odd turn, and the team of Detective White, Constable Walnut and Detective Waxford as they investigate the strange disappearances in Darkwound and find themselves uncovering a serial killer and a cannibalism cult. But as with the original all of these stories meld together as the book progresses towards the end, and eventually all three interconnected stories reach the same point and we become able to see what links the stories to each other quite clearly. Overall TCTotBG does feel more focused and directed, while retaining the madness and strangeness that makes the novel unique, than the original, which I felt helped distinguish it from TSaEToMaG and showed that Bee knows how to make each novel in her series different in more ways than just stories and characters. Another aspect that sets this book apart is that by the end, not everything has been resolved, and it appears as if this story will have future ramifications for Loveheart and Co, and perhaps could be the start of a series wide arc that pits Loveheart and his friends against a very dangerous foe.

The characters are just as strange and cool as the original's cast. Returning characters include the delightfully bonkers John Loveheart who finds himself as the new Lord of the Underworld with some pretty fantastic powers to go with the title, but also responsibility. Loveheart knows who he is now, he's mad, bad and dangerous to know; but he isn't wicked and that shows in several scenes that firmly cement him as a hero in my eyes, albeit one who hangs severed heads in his garden and throws corpses through his neighbours windows for fun. The astute Detective White and his not-so-astute partner Constable Walnut return as well, these two act as the straightmen to Loveheart as they did in the first novel, balancing his utter insanity with a more analytical approach to events from White and straightforward dimness from Walnut; but even these two aren't immune to the madness of this series and there are points where we get to see them embrace the strangeness. Death returns and gives us more hints of a character that is 98% amoral and 2% compassionate, he's not the human-lover that Sir Terry Pratchett's Death was, but he does have a sense of right and wrong, and a deep objection to people who aren't actually dead being buried. And of course the very British with a capital B explorer Rufus Peril Hazard returns and gets to play a real role in the story this time, I very much liked his character in the original book as I am a huge fan of Blackadder and it's clear that Rufus is based on characters from that series, so it was great to see him again. The highlight of the new cast is Boo Boo Frogwish, who I can best describe as The Bride from Kill Bill if she were a fairy tale princess; Boo Boo is pure badass with her butterfly knives and though hers is a different kind of madness from the rest of the cast, she fits in nicely with them and definitely cements her place as a leading character in the series by the end of the book. Detective Waxford was a particular favourite of mine as he fulfills an important role; he is the voice of the reader amidst all the madness, he is the one who points at sometuing and says "That's bloody mad!" or "What the hell is wrong with you people!" But he's no set piece character and over the course of the novel Waxford proves to be a stout ally and a copper who averts a lot of the uselessness that police tend to display in supernatural stories. The villains Professor Hummingbird and Mr Angelcakes are a very different kind of nasty compared to the original book's Mr Fingers, Hummingbird's murderous obsession with butterflies and Angelcakes' desire for revenge, combined with their willingness to hurt children and cause mass murder to get what they want, make them much more chaotic than Mr Fingers ever was and in some ways far more dangerous. As with the original novel each and every character feels like a labour of love, as if Bee sat down and personally worked out names, appearances, backstories and personalities for every named character in the book; and it shows as each character feels distinct not only from each other but from the majority of characters in contemporary fantasy. Bee really knows how to make characters that, whether you love them or hate them, will stick in your mind long after you've finished the book and are waiting for the next instalment in the series.

The world building continues with Aztec curses, warriors souls as butteflies, little girls possessed by the spirit of ancient Aztec warrior-queens, sorcerers with a fetish for butterflies and no sense of interior decoration, cannibalistic cultists that can make people explode at will, a demon with a penchant for skin eating and snarky commentary, and a cursed jewel that whenever you touch it sends you to Wales... shudder. As with the original the world-building is clearly secondary to actually telling the story, Bee adds fantastical new elements to her world in abundance but each and every one is pertinent to the story, the author doesn't go off on info-dumps or random tangents of lore that no doubt would be interesting and amusing but irrelevant to the novel to satisfy some desire to know more, we learn more as we need to. But really this isn't a series that is about building up lore with checklists and a wiki, it's more a dark fairy tale that introduces new things as it needs to and can have any fantastical thing in it that the author dreams up, precisely because the series doesn't take itself too seriously. I quite enjoy this because it means that anything could happen in the series, the limits are the author's imagination and based on her two books so far, that imagination has some pretty far out limits. TCTotBG has the same sense of wonder, madness and dark magic that made TSaEToMaG such a great novel to read. One noticable feature is that Bee establishes that Hell exists in this book and is distinct from the Underworld, but doesn't elaborate a great deal on that, which was a bit of a shame because I would have liked to see a little bit of Hell; though we got to see two of it's inhabitants quite a bit and they paint a very interesting picture of what the downstairs is like. I suppose we'll have to wait until Book 3 to find out more about Hell and any other worlds in the series.

The pacing of the book, as I mentioned above, is quite different from the original novel due to TCTotBG having a much more linear storyline and not relying on flashbacks to explore the characters. Because of this the novel does feel a bit easier to read than TSaEToMaG, which showed as I finished the sequel a bit quicker than the original and didn't have to go back through the pages to make sure of something. The striking and unique chapter formats that Bee favours are here as well and as in the original they make these smaller chapters much more memorable and add more than a touch of uniqueness to the novel in a way that I doubt many authors even consider, after all the word format changing isn't something you see very often (in fact I have never seen it before beyond occasional italics and bold text). The humour blended with horror that made the original novel such a joy to read is just as strong here, I had a blast reading this book and enjoyed every second of it; but it was more than simply enjoying it, I was laughing all the time and just generally enjoying sitting there and reading about these strange people in just as strange places and situations and their, usually bloody and violent, reactions to the events that befall them. I can easily see myself re-reading this novel and enjoying it just as much, even though I know what happens, because it was that much fun just reading the book.

My favourite quote, very hard to decide this time as there's just soooo many great lines and exchanges in this book, so I'll go with these three;

"I AM DETECTIVE WAXFORD OF SCOTLAND YARD AND YOU'RE ALL NICKED!"

"DOORS DO NOT STOP RUFUS HAZARD!"

"Do we have a problem Mr Loveheart?"
"Not if you're dead."

The ending follows the same style as the first book in the series; a number of epilogues are given for all the survivors and important characters to show how the events of the book have affected them and what kind of ending, or continuance in the case of recurring characters, they got. I enjoyed this approach as it meant that no matter who your favourite character was, provided they lived, you got to see what happened to them, even if they were a secondary character or only appeared briefly, you can see them again. While the Tale of the Butterfly Girl itself is a self-contained story as Mirror and Goliath was, unlike the original novel not everything has been solved by the end and an enemy still remains that now knows who Loveheart is, and wants him dead. The establishment of this enemy, a series Big Bad perhaps, and the consequences of Loveheart's actions in this book will likely carry onto the next book or perhaps into future instalments as a series wide arc, this shows that the author has real plans for this series beyond just a few books dealing with random adventures, and I for one can't wait to see where Ishbelle Bee plans on taking John Loveheart and his friends.

For an engaging storyline that had me as glued to the pages as I was with it's predecessor, all of the characters I loved the best returning with many new faces that I dearly hope to see in the next book, more of the comedy-horror blood and gore that makes this a fairy tale for adults (or modern-minded kids), and for just generally being a hell of a fun time to read; I give The Contrary Tale of the Butterfly Girl a score of 9.5/10. This, like the first novel in the series, is a Great book that I would wholeheartedly recommend to fans of Neil Gaiman, Catherine Valente and to anyone who likes their fairy tales filled with insanity and darkness, but remaining true to their roots as a fairy tale. Truthfully I already love this series so much that I would suggest reading this book to any fan of fantasy, you never know what you'll like until you try it and maybe you'll love this book and series as much as I do by the time you're done with it, even if it wasn't something you'd have thought about without a recommendation. And if not, then at least you tried.

That's it for this review. Thanks very much for reading, until next time;

AVE DOMINUS NOX!
 
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