New Book of the Week: A Dangerous Energy

One of the joys of working on the SF Gateway is how often we come across ‘new’ books that were, in their earlier print incarnations, published by Gollancz. It’s both a quiet joy to be welcoming one of our own back from out-of-print obscurity and a reminder of the historical importance of Gollancz in the development of British SF over the last half a century or so; so many great works of SF were published by Gollancz over the years.

So imagine how pleased we were to conclude a deal for John Whitbourn’s work, earlier this year. Not only is John a wonderful writer of alternate histories – some more alternate than others! – but his first novel, A Dangerous Energy, won the BBC/Victor Gollancz Fantasy Novel Prize in 1991.


England, 1967: ruled by the power of the Catholic Church, as it has been since the failure of the Protestant Reformation. In this England there are steam trains, but no internal combustion engine; rifles but no electricity; heresy but no democracy.

And in this England, magic works.

England, 1967: young Tobias Oakley, out on an illicit night-time expedition, meets an elven woman – and is chosen for initiation into the secrets of necromancy. Tobias has a powerful talent and his injudicious use of it brings him to the attention of the Church – whose Thaumaturgical Division soon recruits him.

And so Tobias enters the Church, beginning his career amid the brothels and taverns of the teeming slums of the diocese of Southwark. From there his progress, if not steady – there is something about Tobias that arouses unease in his superiors – is generally upwards. As a curate, as a priest, as a soldier in the bloody war against heresy and finally as an eminent expert on diabolism, Tobias becomes a power in the English Catholic Church.

And as he does so, he pursues his second career: as liar, drug smuggler, rakehell, mass murderer, betrayer, vicious libertine and consorter with demons. For the elf legacy that has shaped his life has robbed him of something vital. And when Tobias, in an effort finally to discover some meaning in life, embarks on a fantastic and perilous quest through supernatural realms he finds himself at the last confronting a savage irony.


You can find A Dangerous Energy – and more of John Whitbourn’s books – via his author page on the SF Gateway website, and read more about him at The Encyclopedia of Fantasy.