Swoon Author Tarun Shanker: A London Tour of the Locations in THESE VICIOUS MASKS
One of the best part of writing historical fantasy and setting your stories somewhere real is that you can actually go to the locations in person. Knowing the history and the way it fits into my own story always gives me a newfound appreciation for places and details I might never notice otherwise as a tourist. And in return, those little details help make the story and world feel more lived in and authentic.
So since I’m in London at the moment, I thought I’d finally visit some of these locations we’ve spent so much time writing about, share this little These Vicious Masks tour with you, and make Kelly jealous at the same time. It’s win win!
First stop is Victoria Station, where Evelyn gets off the train from Bramhurst and sets her eyes on the overwhelming chaos that is London. At the time, Victoria Station was actually made up of two separate stations, but they were eventually rebuilt around the turn of the century and the two were merged. But it’s still in the same location at least. Here’s my attempt to get a similar angle, but of course, the station had to be incredibly rude and ruin my picture with their current construction and renovations blocking everything.
Next stop is the Egyptian Hall on Piccadilly, where Evelyn attends a magic show hoping the masked magician would lead her to Rose. Just as that outing led to a disappointing end, so did mine—the original building was knocked down in 1905. Booooo. Now the only remnant is the writing on the facade that reads “Egyptian House.”
(Fun weird fact: In 1882, the Egyptian Hall was run by a magician named John Nevil Maskelyne and we are totally going to pretend we were brilliant and picked this theatre purposely because his last name is a mash-up of mask and Evelyn.)
If you head east down Piccadilly to the corner of Shaftesbury Ave. and Great Windmill St., you’ll find the former site of the infamous Argyll Rooms, the dancing room that Evelyn and Sebastian visit to find Camille impersonating Rose. This building has been through a lot—the Argyll Rooms actually shut down in 1878 and reopened as the Trocadero Music Hall in 1882, so we played with the details a little and imagined an alternative fate for it in These Vicious Masks. But in real life, after it was a music hall, it became a restaurant and now it’s a movie theatre, which unfortunately puts an end to arguments over whether it’s a brothel or not.
Less than a mile east of the Argyll Rooms is the Lyceum theatre, where Evelyn attends a play with the Kents and the Verinders. And more importantly, it’s FINALLY a location that hasn’t been completely destroyed and rebuilt! It’s only just been 95% rebuilt. Pretty much all of the inside. But for our purposes, this is still a victory because the outside has been left intact. If you just squint and pretend those Lion King banners say Much Ado About Nothing, it’s like you’ve gone back in time.
The Hospital for Sick Children
And then if you head up north to the Bloomsbury area, you’ll find yourself at the Hospital for Sick Children on Great Ormond Street. It’s the site of the epilogue for These Vicious Masks, where Evelyn and Miss Grey sneak inside to find the injured Oliver Myles and tell him about his power. As per the apparent theme of this tour, the original hospital that Evelyn would have visited has since been demolished and rebuilt to meeting growing demand, but the red-brick building part is from 1893, so I will take what I can get.
43 Belgrave Square
And now it’s time for the These Ruthless Deeds segment of the tour, so let’s head west again (this is a chronological tour, I never said it would be efficient) all the way back over to Belgrave Square. Belgravia was the neighborhood of the elite and wealthy, so it’s quite the shock for Evelyn to discover her parents taking up residence there. It still has that reputation, but Belgrave Square has basically been taken over by embassies now. 43 Belgrave Square is now the Turkish Embassy, but we also took some inspiration from 49 Belgrave Square (now home to the Argentine ambassador) because we imagined the Wyndham house a bit apart from the other buildings. And yes I do find it hilarious that the one location that we destroyed in our book happens to be the one that hasn’t been knocked down and completely rebuilt in real life.
Royal Academy of Arts
If you head northeast back to Piccadilly (and oddly enough, across the street from the Egyptian Hall), you’ll find yourself at Burlington House, the home of the Royal Academy of Arts. This is where Evelyn is forced to attend the Winter Exhibition with the Athertons and yay, the building is still intact! Go inside! Eat a scone! Go curl up in a ball in the exact spot Evelyn wanted to collapse after listening to Lord Atherton!
If you head southwest, back through Belgravia and Chelsea and to the Thames, you’ll end up at the Battersea Bridge, our inspiration for the midpoint fight with Claude in These Vicious Masks and the final scene between Evelyn and Sebastian in These Ruthless Deeds. By 1883, it was the last wooden bridge on the Thames and it wasn’t very popular because it was considered to be unsafe and in poor condition, but it did serve as inspiration for some famous paintings by artists like James McNeill Whistler and the above one by John Atkinson Grimshaw. Of course, it got demolished a couple years later and rebuilt into this more stable incarnation, which yeah, fine, I guess I understand, bridges need to not fall apart and stuff.
Evelyn’s favorite poet’s statue
And finally we come to the end of our tour at Hyde Park for a location that’s mentioned at the end of these These Ruthless Deeds, but doesn’t quite make an actual appearance in the book. Perhaps it’s a hint of things to come.
This was the highlight of my day because of how odd the location is. It’s basically a small park in the middle of an isolated traffic circle by Hyde Park Corner, east of the Achilles statue and northeast of Apsley house, and there’s no simple way to get to it. No crosswalk, no traffic signal, no stop signs, no underground tunnel, no dangerous wooden bridge. Just four to five lanes of endless traffic with cars coming from a few directions and city buses and tour buses constantly stopping and obstructing your view just when you think it’s clear.
It’s a pain. And after spending 10 minutes circling to find the best place to cross without dying or getting yelled at by a policeman for trespassing and after another 5 minutes awkwardly waiting for a break in the traffic that never came, I watched a badass elderly lady just cross over the traffic circle from the other side with barely any hesitation, as if this was a part of her daily commute. Welp, I had no excuse then.
So I ran, slowed down traffic and finally made it across to this damn statue that’s just sitting there, exiled from the rest of the park, half-hidden by the trees, facing away from the entrance, ignoring you, contemplating and brooding in solitude. Because of course.
So I guess there’s the lesson to take away from this whole tour. Even if you can’t depend on most of these other places to stick around perfectly intact for 130 years, you can at least count on a Lord Byron statue from 1881 to be doing the most Byronic things until the end of time.