The Buried Life is a well-paced and enigmatic fantasy novel that will delight fans of urban fantasy.
The murder of a prominent historian in the underground city of Recoletta sends shockwaves through the stuffy upper crusts of its quasi-Victorian society. Inspector Liesl Malone is assigned the case, and rookie Rafe Sundar as a partner.
As the body count rises, the two detectives find their investigation stonewalled by the ruling elite at every turn. Meanwhile Jane Lin, wide-eyed laundress to these same big wigs, uncovers a different kind of dirty laundry and becomes embroiled in the intrigue as well.
The novel is set in a future where an unknown cataclysm has driven humanity underground, and books from the past are guarded obsessively by the rich and powerful. It gives author Carrie Patel scope to paint a world lit by gaslight yet cloaked in secrecy, which she does with great poise.
Her writing exudes an engaging confidence that makes The Buried Life hard to put down. Patel also shows a gift for pithy dialogue, and her two female leads are both resilient although in different ways.
Jane is the more sympathetic, but she grows bolder as the stakes get higher. Malone is one-part Bogart to two-parts Bacall: a little more abrasive, but you’ll want to know her better, and charming rookie Sundar makes a great counter-balance to her hard-nosed cynicism.
You’ve got to love a mystery within a mystery and The Buried Life is all about the search for truth. The straight-laced Victorian mores of the upper classes Patel describes are begging to be torn down. There’s even something akin to the Ministry of Magic in the shady ‘Directorate of Preservation’, with its layers of bureaucracy and stench of corruption and fear.
There are too few cogs and contraptions to classify it as ‘steampunk’, but you can feel enough of the genre’s influence to stretch to steampunk-lite. Another 100-or-so pages could have fleshed things out a little more.
The Buried Life is for lovers of murder mysteries, urban fantasy and dystopia – and maybe a good starting-point for steampunk newbies.