Picking up from the first book’s careful world-building: in Hughes’ universe, set on the planet Dagirus, the ruling class of Oserans hold a range of supernatural gifts inherited and honed over generations, in a society that otherwise resembles 1920s Earth.
Known as Mage Gifts, these talents also confer status on the bearer. Enter Julie Melton: a practical young woman born into one such founding family, and with a potentially explosive secret. Julie, despite her distinguished lineage, had no clear Mage power of her own, relying instead on the wiles of her mother, a brilliant, beautiful inventor.
An intriguing figure who recalls trailblazing women like Ada Lovelace or Hedy Lemarr, Julie’s mother builds on the work of her own mother in creating devices to share her power with Julie and keep her secret in the family. She also works on machines set to change the Osarans’ wider world (the Kindle editions of Hughes’ novels include schematics for some of Lady Melton’s inventions).
Running parallel to Julie’s struggles and her self-discovery, Book One’s brutal serial murders remain unsolved. Attributed to a killer named New Age God by a breathless tabloid press, the mystery underscores wider themes of power and privilege on Dagirus: in a volatile climate of political uncertainty and class prejudice against the Ungifted, The New Age God appears to target Osarans with confirmed Mage gifts.
Of course, class-tension and murder plot collide before too long and Julie becomes a material witness, a suspect, then a sleuth, in the ensuing investigation. Julie’s transition in Book One grants her a new freedom and hard-won happiness in The Hanging Priest.
Reluctant investigating officer, Russell Gaines, must also reckon with his own vices and demons while trying to unmask the New Age God, this time as private detective, Julie working alongside. Book 2 delves further into Osaran belief systems, through the apparent suicide of a high-ranking priest.
Hughes creates engaging scenarios, and a fresh, high-concept take on the classic mystery novel. She manages the plot twists and betrayals with ease, juggling warring in-laws, arrogant detectives, and acolytes to entertaining effect. This is a must-read for mystery fans.