Dark Lines of London is another step along a well-trod path in modern fantasy, blending magic into the modern and creating links to the past through which characters can communicate. Think Rivers of London with the psychogeography and historical characters of From Hell, at least in grand concept if not in finesse of execution.
In this book, real Elizabethan occultist and mathematician John Dee foresees a global catastrophe in the year 2020. Tens of millions of people could be killed by this unknown horror, so he uses magic and historical clues to contact a 21st century man to help him defeat the plot.
Reading this as I was, in the peak of the global coronavirus pandemic, it doesn’t take much to start you wondering, albeit momentarily, if writers Stephen Saleh and Tony Lee might not themselves be in touch with John Dee, and are putting this book out while the real catastrophe plays out around us. I guess that in times of chaotic international turmoil, our brains seek out connections and familiar situations. It soon becomes apparent that the apocalypse of Dark Lines of London is going to be caused by lasers, nuclear reactors and super-charged magical ley lines. It’s enough to makes a global pandemic sound rather tame.
The plot is clever but feels forced into place at times. It starts strongly but, as the story progresses, the loose ends appear harder to draw together and the fantastic gets bogged down in the mundane craft of finding a cohesive way to bring the plot to a satisfying conclusion.
I was similarly torn over the art, which is great in places but is inconsistent in quality across the book as a whole. There are some wonderful, richly illustrated images in places, right down to the occasionally exquisite panel borders, but other pages lack detail. It doesn’t get in the way of the story, at least, but it’s not going to set your world alight.
This is indicative of the book as a whole. There are flashes of brilliance but the overarching result is short of perfection. Anyone who enjoys historical conspiracies, and a dusting of occult magic sprinkled over a modern thriller, should still get a kick out of the book. However, in a genre that’s already brimming with top-class comics, Dark Lines of London doesn’t have enough about it to help it stand with the best.