While serving as a liaison officer to an English regiment allied to Hanoverian and Prussian forces in the Seven Years War, the murder of a Prussian soldier is brought to Lord John Grey's attention. Superstitious locals believe it was the work of a succubus, and wish to borrow John's white stallion to perform a ritual to determine which body in the cemetery the demon inhabits. While searching the graveyard during the ritual, John discovers another body of an English soldier, which only further fuels fear and speculation. While investigating a possible connection between the two bodies and trying to disprove the succubus theory, John must fend off the advances of the lovely widowed princess who is hosting some of the high-ranking officers at her home, and navigate his attraction to the dashing Hanoverian officer who is also his friend.
Lord John and the Succubus is a novella in Diana Gabaldon's Lord John Grey series that falls between Lord John and the Private Matter and Lord John and the Brotherhood of the Blade in the series chronology. Much like with the first novella in this book, the story was rather slow-paced and occasionally I was having trouble following it. Now I admit that it could have been that through part of it I was very sleepy and kept dozing off, and through another part, I was repeatedly interrupted by my family members, so the fault may be partly mine, which is why I only marked it down one star. However, this one seemed a bit more steeped in military history surrounding the Seven Years War, with some geography, troop positions, etc. playing a part here. Normally, I'm very appreciative of Ms. Gabaldon's attention to detail, but for the most part, military history isn't at the top of my list of reading preferences, especially when it comes to wars I know very little about, therefore some of the details of this story were lost on me.
I did, however, enjoy the mystery. With this being a shorter story, though, it wasn't as developed as I'm used to, but it was still good. The title of the novella might lead some readers to believe that this is a supernatural mystery, but the paranormal really only comes into play in the form of legends and superstition. The gist of this part of the story is that Lord John, in his capacity as a liaison officer with the English forces who are allied with the Prussians and Hanoverians, becomes aware of the murder of a Prussian soldier. Many locals believe it was the work of a succubus, which of course, the logical and deductive-reasoning John doesn't believe for a minute. However, to appease them, he allows the use of his horse in a graveyard ritual, during which the body of an English soldier is also discovered. This leads John to investigate a possible connection between the two cases in an effort to bring an end to the speculation regarding a succubus.
While solving the mystery, John is drawn into some interesting interactions with several secondary characters. He and some other high-ranking officers are staying at the castle of a widowed princess. John, being an attractive man, finds himself having to fend of the princess's advances. Also, the author toys with the reader regarding a possible relationship between John and his dashing Hanoverian friend, Stephan von Namtzen, who was introduced in the previous book, Lord John and the Private Matter. In the end, we know that John's attraction to Stephan is real, but we're never entirely sure if the attraction is reciprocal. I suspect it is, but I'll be interested to see if anything more comes of it in future stories of the series. John's valet, Tom Byrd, also introduced in the last book, returns as his efficient and helpful assistant. Then John meets a young teenage soldier out in the field, who he realizes is also gay. He is able to provide the young man with some sage advice, during which we learn of a traumatic incident in John's own past. It's little more than a mention, though, and I would have liked a better understanding of how it affected him on an emotional level. John is a courageous soldier, so perhaps there isn't much more to tell, but I doubt. This story makes it seem like it was simply something that happened that he quickly moved on from, but I think it could definitely be an interesting aspect of his character to explore in more depth if the author chooses to go that way. I'll be interested to see if Ms. Gabaldon expands upon it later.
Overall, Lord John and the Succubus was an enjoyable novella. It may have been a little slow-paced, but I did like following along with the mystery and in particular, John's interactions with the other characters. I might not have thought it was as good as Diana Gabaldon's full-length novels, but it was still a good story. Therefore, I look forward to continuing on with the series soon, and since the next book is a full-length one, perhaps it will be even better. Lord John and the Succubus was originally published in the multi-author anthology Legends II: New Short Novels by the Masters of Modern Fantasy and was later reprinted in the single-author anthology, Lord John and the Hand of Devils, along with two other companion novellas in the Lord John Grey series.
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