Best described as a fantasy mystery, this is a standalone tale that takes place 10 years after the war in Gedlund. There, the humans of the Verin empire have fought and won against a nightmarish lich king. Gedlund is the first book in Tales of the Verin Empire but reading it isn’t required as this book stands on its own.
The protagonist, Gus Baston, is a veteran soldier from the Gedlund War who is making a living as a private investigator in the grimy streets of the city of Gemmen. He suffers from a poorly healed gunshot wound to his calf, inflicted during his days in the army, leaving him a limp along with a bad case of PTSD which he attempts to drown in alcohol. His memories of the war are nightmarish recollections and may stir reader's interest in book one, Gedlund, and give that book a go as well.
He is partnered with a no-nonsense assistant, Emily, whose connections and canniness only become apparent later, as the two struggle to disentangle themselves from charges of kidnapping and murder. The charges are the direct result of having been hired to investigate a man just before he was abducted in public. A man who is the architect of the great tower of iron to be built for an exposition celebrating forty years since mankind made the country of Khanom their own.
These main characters are initially mere players in the bigger picture and their strengths and flaws only come to the fore as the events which have drawn them together unfold and intersect. The world building is detailed, but regularly interrupts the story at the expense of the dialogue and plot. The mention of a new person or place often results in a paragraph or two giving them relevance which may disrupt the story arc for readers. After events gain momentum, the dialogue flows more naturally without as many info dumps on appearances, locations, or character histories, and the pacing picks up in a much more satisfying reading experience.
The chapter headings throughout this lengthy fantasy are news snippets from the local papers of the cities in Verin on various subjects and serve to place a time stamp on the plot and geographical location of the chapter. In many instances their irrelevance to the story line in general could be a downfall, as the majority of them have no bearing on the plot or characters, serving only to set the tone of public opinion or report their biased misinformation.
The Great Restoration is a classic fantasy from a unique perspective that feels urban despite its gaslight setting. The writing here is vaguely reminiscent of a Victorian regency tale such as Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, but without that intense formality, making it easier to relate to.
The prose is solid and relaxing reading that will appeal to those who like a slow burn as opposed to whirlwind plot. There are some fascinating non-human characters introduced in the latter half of the book that really added a more interesting depth to the story.