3 out of 5 stars
I received an ARC of this work.
For those of you who do not think historical fiction gets enough representation in this blog, here you go, something historical! It does not even have any time travel!
Leo is beautiful, young, and an heiress to a large fortune. She should be swarmed with eager suitors, but they keep getting scared away by her speech problems. Not only does she have a stutter, but she also has the ability to perfectly mimic the speech of others. This crops up at the most inopportune times, leading Leo’s sister to nickname her rude and mimicking alter-ego “miss mimic”. Her sister is eager to marry her off, and now there seems to be the perfect man. Mr. Thornfax is gorgeous, wealthy, and does not seem to mind her speech problems. If only her thoughts did not keep wandering to her brother-in-law’s assistant Tom. If only opium was not becoming a serious social problem. If only a random terrorist organization wasn’t blowing things up.
Given how much I love Jane Austen and other classic books about young women struggling to get married, this was a pretty good match for me. A lot of this book is about someone struggling to fit into society and make an advantageous marriage. It describes gowns, social outings and gossip. I know that sounds boring for some of you science fiction and fantasy fans, but for you that is compensated for by the action-packed opium plot where Leo is pulled into the search for the Black Glove gang that insists on blowing up parts of the city. I would have been fine with just the marriage and stuttering plot line, but others may need more action.
The whole book has opium strewn throughout it. Characters ingest it, people die from overdoses and Parliament is debating whether or not to ban it. Writing about opium from a more historical perspective (a lot more medical than now) was a part of the work I enjoyed. It has a very Sherlock Holmes/ 19th century starving poet in a gutter feel about it.
Leo does not have a great personality, only showing interest in a few things, but that may also be a side-effect of an impersonal and straightforward prose style. We spend a lot of time looking at what Leo does and feels about her speech problem and romantic life, but we do not see a lot of the rest of her. Because of her abnormality, she does not interact with a wide variety of characters so we cannot figure out a lot about her from her friends and family. Leo is a fairly flat character with some interests tacked on.
What really carried this story was its resemblance to other novels of manners, with the added twist of a protagonist with a speech disorder. I probably would have enjoyed it as much, if not more, without the Black Hand plot line. It mixed too much action and fast-pacing into a story that resembles the type of books that traditionally have little to no action at all.
This was not bad for a first novel. The mixing of action with close inspections of manners and daily social life was not done fabulously, but I still would like to see more from this author. Her premises are unique and intriguing.