The Secrets of Life and Death – Rebecca Alexander

At my university’s enrolment day first years are given a fifty pound book voucher for the university book shop (amazing right?). I obviously spent a fair amount of that on books that I needed for my course, but by the end of the year I felt I deserved a book for myself. So, after about half an hour searching the book shop I came across The Secrets of Life and Death. I didn’t even need to read the back, the cover alone made me want to buy it. I also found out later that Rebecca Alexander actually got her masters in creative writing at my university, which made me love the book even more.

the secrets of life and death

(How beautiful is that cover!?)

The Secrets of Life and death was actually released in 2013 and its sequel The Secrets of Blood and Bone in 2014, the third and final book The Secrets of Time and Fate comes out in June this year. So, I thought that I would review the first two in anticipation of the third book!


In modern day England, Professor Felix Guichard is called in to identify occult symbols found on the corpse of a young girl. His investigation brings him in contact with a mysterious woman, Jackdaw Hammond, who guards a monumental secret–She’s Dead. Or she would be, were it not for magic which has artificially extended her life. But someone else knows her secret. Someone very old and very powerful, who won’t rest until they’ve taken the magic that keeps her alive….

In Krakow in 1585, Dr John Dee, the Elizabethan Alchemist and Occultist, and his assistant Edward Kelley have been summoned by the King of Poland to save the life of his niece, the infamous Countess Elisabeth Bathory. But they soon realise that the only thing worse than the Countess’ malady, is the magic that might be able to save her…

As Jackdaw and Felix race to uncover the truth about the person hunting her, it becomes clear that the answers they seek can only be found in the ancient diary of John Dee’s assistant, Edward Kelley. Together they must solve a mystery centuries in the making, or die trying.


As an English and History student this book satisfied both of my main areas of interest. The historical aspect of the novel uses real people, and real experiences, but aspects of  their stories have been adapted and fictionalised. I however loved reading about Kelley, Dee, and Bathory (The Blood Countess), having known some contextual information about them I found the historical chapters even more fascinating and compelling.

The chapters in this book are split between modern day and the 16th century. I absolutely loved this, it made cliffhangers so much more effective. I found myself hooked within the first few chapters because I couldn’t wait to find out what happened next! The mixture of myth, alchemy and magic works so well in a realistic and believable way in both the modern and historical chapters.

The characters are all wonderfully written. Jackdaw Hammond especially, she is a captivating and likeable character with a hint of mystery which makes you want to know more and more about her. Felix is just an all round great guy, I loved his character! Sadie could have easily been a whiny unlikeable teenager, but she isn’t. The chapters often switch between different character’s points of view, which I know for some could be confusing, but with this novel it’s not, it works really well. I personally love reading situations from different points of view.

The romance aspect of this novel is not overdone and does not take over the actual story. I’m not a huge fan of super swoony over the top romance, but I do like the odd hint of it, so this novel was perfect for me.

If you haven’t read this, I would definitely recommend it. I loved the sequel just as much and I can’t wait to share the next review!


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