I have a soft spot for arrogant, upper class, tosspot, first-person narrators, not saying that I want to read them all the time but it’s fun to read something different. And so Francis is our guide through this tale of his life, starting in the eighteenth century when we meet him as a teenager learning how to be a libertine and what money and power can bring to a young boy. He learns about his family history, and in particular one great-great-grandfather, Tobias, who may have discovered the secret of the Philosopher’s stone. Francis dedicates his life to following in Tobias’ footsteps, starting at his time in Oxford where he meets others who already know and worship Tobias.
There’s a big cast of characters and plenty going on, though the story does lull in places, but then comes back for the final section. The story travels all over the world and Francis is suitably obnoxious the entire time, sleeping with the wrong people, making friends with strange people as he chases down any lead of Tobias. It’s quite slow-paced generally and there’s plenty of detail whether you want it or not! Some of it gets a bit gory, fyi.
There are some interesting themes through our the novel: roses is the one that stands out for me. The writing can be quite lovely but it didn’t come as often as I would’ve liked.