Oct 22 2013
In an effort to provide more coverage of paranormal romance and
historical romance, I’ve been searching for additional reviewers.
Mary Kate is one of a couple we are going to try out here at Dear
Author. From Mary Kate:
care, I’ve breezed through the gamut of everything books have to
offer. As a child, I used to spend summer days happily ensconced in
one of the Philadelphia public libraries, reading everything and
anything I could get my hands on, thanks to the love and support of my
parents and aunts – teachers, mothers and/or librarians all. One aunt
started me with Nancy Drew books (whose pages are worn from hundreds
of re-reads) while another thought I needed introduced to C.S. Lewis’s
land of Narnia. By the time I was 8, I’d read everything the library’s
children’s section had to offer and had “graduated” to the adult room
downstairs. Fortunately for my very supportive parents’ sanity, I
didn’t discover romances until college. My days are currently spent
working in law enforcement (dispatchers unite!), working with first
responders, and trying to dig my writer/editor/reviewer husband out
from his latest pile of books. I’m a devoted fan of all manner of
romance (though I prefer my romance to have a hint of laughter and
self-awareness), mysteries, and urban fantasy.
Dear Ms. Cooper,
First of all, thank you for penning what is, clearly, a different take on society, morals and life during the Victorian age of England. The views expressed are unique and ones I don’t know that I’ve encountered anywhere in mainstream writing before. Countess Cherry St. Croix, or Lady Black as she now prefers to be called, is many things – she’s a bounty hunter – also known as a collector – a friend, an addict, a lost soul, a widow, and a woman who is driven by demons both chemically induced and real. After the untimely death of her husband at the hands of her unseen, unknown nemesis, Cherry retreats from her life among London’s elite to inhabit the darker, seedier side of the city. While searching for herself amidst the terrors of the Midnight Menagerie, a pleasure palace for the wealthy, and the dark, filthy streets, she also hunts for the man who is torturing her. The one constant seems to be the Menagerie’s ringmaster, Hawke – a man Cherry isn’t quite sure she cares or.
In a word, I both loved the book and hated it. On the one hand, the world is beautifully detailed, and while this book is clearly part of a series, the parts that went before are thoroughly described. While it’s not easy to just “drop in” to the story, enough is explained that immersion in the world is relatively quick and painless. On the other hand, I felt, at several points, like I was the one in the opium induced haze trying to figure out what the letters on the page were supposed to mean. Life in Cherry’s world is quite difficult, that much is made readily apparent. However, the line between describing what was going on in her mind and living in her mind was crossed more times than not. It was distracting, to say the least, and a little bit uncomfortable. I’m all for stories that invite the reader to think and expand their horizons, but this bordered on the painfully raw and manipulative.
Then there’s Cherry. I wanted to like Cherry – I really did. Here is a woman who has lived on the fringes of society her whole life, forced to become a member of Society, then just as quickly forced to become something much less than that. She’s dealt with horrors that no person should ever have to endure. And yet she whines. Dear merciful heavens that girl whines. I don’t know that I’ve ever heard a character bemoan her fate so much and so hard outside of a Shakespearean tragedy. Cherry doesn’t just wallow in her guilt and failure – she revels in it. She wears it like a badge of honor. Yet the feelings don’t debilitate her like one would expect – no, she manages to flip through the air and execute amazing feats of strength and heroism, while at the same time loudly, eloquently, wailing her fate as if she didn’t make any choices to lead her to that point. I realize that many of her circumstances were thrust upon her, dire as they were. While she handled some of them with a modicum of grace, she was always one opium bite away from cracking – always – and being inside of her mind was like being inside a fever dream that had no ending. Her relationship with Hawke really had no romance to it at all. Certainly there’s some emotion there – you outright stated that Hawke had been punished for his defense of Cherry – but there seemed to be no real connection other than the carnal.
One of the things I really liked about the book was the use of secondary characters. While they weren’t more than sketches, they seemed vibrantly alive – particularly the prostitutes, or sweets, in the Menagerie. Each one was a jewel set against darkness – there were few of them, but each stood out as a character I’d love to know more about.
On the whole, the book wasn’t so much a romance as it was historical steampunk horror. There was very little romance, though the erotica content was there. The sensuality and sexuality seemed more brutal than alluring, with one act falling neatly within the realm of domination and submission while the other was straight up assault that could, for some, be more than a little disturbing. It felt like you were dancing on that fine line between acceptable and not – though you came down, barely, on acceptable, there are those who will definitely say that you crossed a line.
The steampunk aspect of the book intrigued me, though it was merely touched upon lightly, almost glazed over in favor of Cherry’s addiction and fate. I wanted a bit less atmospheric narrative and a bit more detail, something just a bit MORE to draw me in. While overall beautifully written with this book’s story neatly wrapped and tied with a bow, there was a cliffhanger ending that left too many questions for comfort unanswered. D+