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REVIEW: India Black and the Widow of Windsor by Carol K....

Dear Ms. Carr,

I read your debut novel, India Black, earlier this year and enjoyed it a great deal. While I can see why some people would be put off by the voice, I adored the protagonist, a brothel-madam-turned-reluctant-spy, and her unrelenting cynicism and jaded pragmatism. It was refreshing. Combined with a caper sensibility, it was one of my favorite books last year. So I was very excited when Jane sent me a copy of the sequel. Unfortunately, it didn’t quite live up to my expectations.

India Black and the Widow of WindsorAfter the events of the previous novel, India Black has gone back to her life as the proprietor of a brothel. But her life has suddenly become boring. I suppose that’s understandable. When you’ve grappled with Russian spies, trying to satisfy your employees’ desire for new dresses is probably not on the same level. So when British spy French recruits her for a new mission, India jumps at the chance.

The mission is a tricky one. Queen Victoria is fond of seances because she believes it allows her to communicate with her dearly departed husband, Prince Albert. At one such seance, she was “told” by her husband to spend Christmas at their Scottish home. Prime Minister Disraeli believes it’s a Scottish Nationalist plot to assassinate the Queen, and it’s up to India and French to stop it from happening.

I’ll be the first to admit that British history is not my strong point. That said, I have a feeling these portrayals of Queen Victoria, John Brown and various other historical personages are perhaps not so flattering. I’d be interested to see what other, more informed readers think of these depictions and how they compare against the historical reality.

As for the book itself, one of the reasons why I loved the first novel was because it was a caper story. I’m a big fan of caper stories and their structure. So I admit I was expecting more of that. Unfortunately, barely any of that was here. Instead, The Widow of Windsor opted for a more amateur sleuth approach. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s not particular narrative style that engages me. Straight mysteries are generally not my genre.

Because of the shift from spy caper to amateur sleuth, I think India’s character suffered. I thought we saw very little of India’s resourcefulness and cleverness. In fact, I often thought she was outmaneuvered and outwitted by everyone around her. And in the end, she comes off as being slow on the uptake and unobservant. I didn’t like that at all. In the first book, we were introduced to a larger than life character and I felt that this book, as Jane said, diminished her.

But it wasn’t all bad. I did like India’s relationship with the Marchioness, for whom she was posing as a maid. There’s definitely more to that old woman than meets the eye and I’m not convinced her entire ridiculously eccentric personality wasn’t a complete fabrication. I am doubly curious now, given her remarks about India’s mother.

Speaking of which, I am dying to know India’s background. We got hints of it in the first book, and we get more of it here. By this point, I am extremely curious as to how a woman like India became a prostitute, even more so considering the hints the Marchioness dropped about her mother.

The great irony of this novel is that one of the underlying themes is not to underestimate women. It comes up again and again throughout the narrative. Normally, I like that message because fiction could stand to be more populated by great women characters. But I thought it was undermined by India’s ineffective sleuthing that often lands her in trouble and makes her look incompetent. While I understand it’s unbelievable to make India a rock star at investigation, a little less bumbling around and getting lost would have been nice.

Like the first book, India Black and the Widow of Windsor retains its comedic undertones but it never quite matches the satisfying over the top qualities. I wasn’t thrilled by India’s portrayal as a character, and I thought the ending was somewhat anti-climatic. I can only hope she fares better in the next installment. C

My regards,
Jia

Previous novels in this series: India Black (review)

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Jia is an avid reader who loves fantasy and young adult novels. She's also currently dipping her toes in the new adult genre but remains unconvinced by the prevalent need for traumatic pasts. Her favorite authors are Michelle West and Jacqueline Carey. YA authors whose works she's enjoyed include Holly Black, Laini Taylor, Ally Carter, and Megan Miranda. Jia's on a neverending quest for novels with diverse casts and multicultural settings. Feel free to email her with recommendations at [email protected]!

6 Comments

  1. helen
    Nov 18, 2011 @ 12:07:07

    Is there any romance in these books or are they straight mystery? I am not much for historical mysteries but I have been liking the Jane Grey series so I thought I’d give this a try if there is at least a bit of romance.

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  2. swati
    Nov 18, 2011 @ 12:24:31

    I really enjoyed the first book so i grabbed this one as soon as it came out …. Till now, i have read about 4 chapters …. Nothing wrong so far, but i just can’t seem to muster up any interest … its been days now, i pick it up, barely read a couple of paras and then forget it for a few days …I really wanted to like this book …. but i just can’t seem to go through it … it feels like such a chore….

    As the review pointed out, the caper style was the fun element of the first book …. that is what made me love it despite serious flaws and over the top scenes … this time, not any fun .. at all.

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  3. Cara Ellison
    Nov 18, 2011 @ 21:21:46

    I’ve never read either this book or the one before it, but I love the cover. Very pretty.

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  4. Lil
    Nov 18, 2011 @ 21:21:51

    I haven’t read this, but I have read any number of historical studies that present less than flattering portraits of Victoria, John Brown, etc. And I am not speaking only of Lytton Strachey.

    Come to think of it, I can’t think of a portrayal of Victoria that is both serious and flattering.

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  5. Jia
    Nov 20, 2011 @ 13:32:32

    @helen: These are pretty much straight mystery. There’s barely a hint of romance and even less in this book than the first one.

    @swati: I think you nailed it. This book lacks fun, energy and verve.

    @Cara Ellison: I definitely think the covers for these books are very pretty.

    @Lil: Interesting. Was Victoria an unpopular monarch?

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  6. Anne
    Nov 26, 2011 @ 07:28:38

    @Jia NO! Victoria was a very popular and generally effective monarch, at least in England. She did rule Ireland during the potato famine (very bad) but she essentially held the empire at its prime. She had her faults but there was nothing particularly villainous about her except her supposed sexual prudery, and she had nine children so she must have been doing something right.

    ReplyReply

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