This is my first venture into the genre of steampunk/urban fantasy and I’m pleasantly surprised with the experience. The mixture of a historical setting and creative fanciful inventions are intriguing. While this isn’t a romance novel, it is an enjoyable change of pace for me.
If you are like me and have never read a steampunk/urban fantasy before, let me quickly give you an idea of what is involved. The setting is in Jack-the-Ripper-era London and certain aspects of that time frame are kept factual, like a woman’s need for a proper chaperone and the grand mating balls of “The Season.” However, mixed into this historical narrative are things like respirators to help filter the filthy London air, flying airships which are reminiscent of the grand war balloons seen in the 2011 remake of The Three Musketeers, and even a foray into the mysterious world of alchemy.
Gilded focuses on a rule-breaking heroine, Cherry St. Croix, who is living a dangerous double life as a collector in the sooty underworld of London and a wealthy heiress attempting to navigate fickle 19th century Society. While trying to discover answers to her own familial mysteries, she is challenged by a prestigious Society figure to solve a recent murder. In the course of her search for the truth, she learns that the answers may come at a high cost.
I actually find Cherry quite refreshing compared to other heroines who are set in the same time period. She is intelligent, sassy, irreverent, and not desperate to find a “suitable” match and start popping out a couple of kids. Not that there is anything wrong with marriage and children, but I like reading a historical book where that is not the woman’s only focus. There are several times during the book that I felt my eyebrows rise from Cherry’s antics.
However, there are a few issues that keep me from totally connecting to this character. First, her alter-ego role as a collector is never fully explained. I truly have no idea what a collector is supposed to be. The best I can gather, it is a person who retrieves debts that are owed to the main underworld establishment, the Menagerie. Although we are repeatedly told that Cherry is a collector, we never actually see her preform this duty, merely use it as an excuse to break the law. Secondly, due to tragic childhood occurrences, Cherry is a dedicated user of laudanum, a substance that would be currently considered morphine. One of my favorite characters, Sherlock Holmes, was an opium addict, so I do not mind her drug use, but it is something the author reminds us of far too often for my liking.
Even though this isn’t a romance novel, there is a male love interest that is very persistent in his pursuit of Cherry. Their “dates” are used more as a way to keep the reader from getting bored with the main plot line than trying to draw us into a deeply passionate relationship. Most of the time, I actually want to skip past the awkward exchanges and get back to trying to unearth the rather bizarre situations Cherry finds herself in.
This is a well-written book. The descriptions of old-world London are done well enough to make you think you can hear the horse-drawn carriages on the cobblestones. The mystery is quite intriguing and we are given just enough clues at the right time to keep us involved. Gilded is left open for a sequel and I am looking forward to the continued exploits of Cherry St. Croix.
In the gleaming heights of Victorian London, a world of deception awaits an unconventional Society lady whose taste for adventure makes her a most formidable adversary…
Though Society demands that I make a good marriage, I, Cherry St. Croix, have neither the time nor the interest. I am on the trail of a murder with no victim, a mystery with no motive, and the key to an alchemical formula that could be my family’s legacy. Yet the world is not so kind as to let me pursue simple murder and uncomplicated bounties. Above the foggy drift, an earl insists on my attention, while my friends watch my increasingly desperate attempts to remain my own woman. From the silken demands of the Midnight Menagerie—to whose dangerously seductive ringmaster I owe a debt—to the rigorous pressures of the peerage, all are conspiring to place before me a choice that will forever change my life.
Read an excerpt.
Other books in this series: