REVIEW: Cards & Caravans by Cindy Spencer Pape
Dear Ms. Pape:
I’ve been looking for some good steampunk romance and this definitely worked for me. This is the first book of yours of I’ve read, even though this is 5th book in the Gaslight Chronicle series.
Widow Belinda Danvers is accused of being a witch. Things are looking pretty dire for her until Sir Connor McKay of the Order of the Round Table, shows up and saves her. Making their escape in her grandfather’s circus caravan, they end up sharing a room in an inn. As a widow who knows she is barren, Belinda knows that there is little risk in inviting Sir Connor to share her bed, which I found to be quite refreshing. After all, there’s nothing like being rescued from certain death by a handsome and willing man to make you want to live your life to the fullest.
When they finally reach sanctuary at McKay’s estate, a gaggle of relatives characters from previous books greets the couple. Thankfully, updates of what those characters had done were subtly woven into the story. In fact, it was done in such a way that it made me more curious to go back and read earlier editions in the series. That’s not always an easy thing to do.
As they hang out and discuss Belinda’s situation they come across an interesting solution to her predicament. The witch warrant is for the half-gypsy widow Belinda Danvers. However, if Belinda was married, she would be the noble wife of Sir Connor, which would put her in a different jurisdiction. It’s a nice acknowledgement of social class differences in the legal system, which also contrasts just how different Sir Connor’s family and friends are: they don’t care about Belinda’s lower class background, and the warmth with which they welcome her is genuine and well-done. It doesn’t feel suffocating or confusing as other middle-of-the-series-family saga romance type books to be, because the story remained firmly centered on Belinda and Connor.
Belinda protests as expected, but quickly gives in, because after all, she does feel like she’s falling for him, and he with her, so why not. It’s nice that there was no manufactured tension to delay the marriage. Rather the tension comes from Belinda’s hope that Connor will eventually come to truly love her. But after overhearing a conversation, Belinda concludes that Connor is carrying a torch for an old love, and sadness results, but luckily, not the overly dramatic my-life-is-ruined-forever-and-I-will-run-off-and-do-something-stupid kind of sadness. Instead, Belinda has some sense and knows that things could be worse than being married to a rich noble man you have great chemistry. There is always the potential for more, as the helpful friendly spirit of her dead husband keeps whispering to her (kind of like a ghostly Jiminy Cricket).
Connor feels a bit too perfectly generic. He’s in love with Belinda, and does all the right things. His lack of inner angst, and the fact that he’s actually a rather nice person is refreshing, though some might find him a bit boring. We’re told he’s a powerful magic-user but we don’t actually see him do too many powerful things.
With some sleuthing, the Order of the Round Table (which is a magical do-gooding association largely made up of Connor’s family and friends) determine that the witch hunt for Belinda is part of a larger pattern of attacks and trials on minor magic users that some larger association must be orchestrating. So the team at Kay’s estate decides to masquerade as a traveling circus in order to draw out the witch hunters. I felt like there could have been a bit more color and description here (it is a traveling circus after all) but it feels more like a standard circus, not a steam punk circus, which is a little bit of a lost opportunity.
– spoiler –
[spoiler]Their plan works of course, and what was nice was that Belinda was the one who not only saved herself, but Connor as well. So many paranormal romances have the Super-One-of-a-Kind-Special-Heroine who ends up being saved by the hero. I liked that Belinda was NOT built up that way and yet, and she did more than many other supposedly special heroines.[/spoiler]
Overall, I wanted more world building. There aren’t that many Scottish steampunk romances out there, but this didn’t really make me feel like I was in Scotland. I also felt that the Order of the Round Table caught the bad guys and solved the mystery much too easily. At 52,000 words, this was a quick, fun light read and I will definitely be checking out the earlier books in the series. B