Arden Grey enjoys a life most women in 1898 London can’t even dream of: She has the social status, wealth, and independence of a countess. She also has the ability to witness the final moments of a murder victim’s life. But ever since the disappearance of her husband, Lucas, none of this means anything to her. Until one night, when Arden spies a man watching her–a man she recognizes as her missing husband.
He’s been ordered to assassinate Arden as retribution for her part in the killing of a Company agent. Luke remembers nothing of his life before the Company, a corrupt agency that has erased his memory. Even so, he can’t seem to complete his assignment. There is something familiar about his lovely target, something that attracts him, and fills him with dread. For he knows that if he doesn’t kill her, someone else will–and kill him as well.
OK, first of all, this is really the very first “steam punk” novel I have ever read and I have to say that it was most entertaining and brought me into a part of the romance genre I had been reluctant to investigate. Yet when I found this ARC on Net Galley, I was somehow fascinated and I am really glad to have discovered it.
Most of all, it is about a woman who is going up against the settled opinions of society about women–most particularly women in the field of medicine. If you remember the “fire storm” that occurred when women wanted to become nurses during the Crimean War–the Florence Nightingale saga–than you can imagine what the response was for women who wanted to be doctors. Even here in this country there is still a serious prejudice within medical schools against female physicians who have to pull more intern shifts, work at least 30% harder as residents, and put up with all kinds of contrived politics within hospitals before they are finally within reach of their personal professional goals. Consider what it was like in the late 19th century. Arden was only allowed to practice medicine on real patients because she was affluent enough to be able to volunteer her services at a women’s hospital, but as far as the authorities were concerned, her only value was as a medical examiner doing autopsies. And she was only allowed to do this because one of her medical school mentors liked her a lot and was the chief surgeon in London.
This novel had the feel of your usual historical romance, but there was political upheavel by women who were staging hunger strikes and being assaulted during public demonstrations just to secure the vote. And there were strange machines that had been invented to do all kinds of domestic and public work–the kind we would not expect to see even today. So amid the historical and mystery elements of this novel were some definite sci-fi elements that wafted in and out of the background and story itself.
I found this novel to be a really terrific read and one that has successfully introduced me to this new kind of historical romance. It is beautifully written and clearly highlights the plight of women in 1898 in a number of areas as well as the underlying story of political intrigue that involved Arden’s husband in a draconian plot to end her life–her assassin being her own husband. Throughout the reader is made very aware of Arden’s grieving over a husband’s disappearance in such a way that she is not knowing if he is alive or dead, and there is also a police officer whose own attraction to Arden and her’s to him complicate her personal situation. There is also the sense of a kind of cliff-hanger ending that led me to feel that there was more to come, especially as this novel is styled at Book One in a new series. So I am excited about my discovery and looking forward to reading more about this curious mix of history, romance, and fantasy. I give it a rating of 4 out of 5.
You can read more from Judith at Dr J’s Book Place.