**I received this book for free from the publisher or author in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.**
Series: The St. Croix Chronicles #2
Published by Avon on December 26, 2012
Genres: Romance, Steampunk
AMAZON • B&N • BOOK DEPOSITORY • Goodreads
The second book in Karina Cooper's stunning steampunk series featuring fearless heroine Cherry St. Croix, in which she is faced with two men after her heart—and one killer out for her blood.
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.
Karina Cooper’s steampunk romance series, The St Croix Chronicles, is, without a doubt, interesting and original. Cooper created a fantastic world in her alternate Victorian era London and I looked forward to cracking the proverbial spine of book two to see where our intrepid but seriously flawed heroine, Cherry St. Croix, would take me. But while I love Cooper’s atmospheric setting, I had a hard time finishing GILDED. Let me explain.
The things I most love about the book, and the series, are their atmosphere and the world-building. Cooper created a world in which there is the London above the drift, in which society’s wealthy aristocrats live above the polluted air of the city’s factories, and the London below the drift, in which the city’s working class poor live alongside the city’s vice and crime. In this second addition to the series, I felt like I was once again in the middle of London-below’s gritty streets with its thick air and criminal infested shadows. The dichotomy of the two worlds is stark and compelling, each one providing a very atmospheric setting for the story — from the ballrooms above the drift to the opium dens below. The romantic triangle is also a good one. Cherry has the mysterious, hard-to-read, and dangerous Micajah Hawke versus the safe, rich but genuinely caring Lord Compton as potential love interests. Both men are night and day and both men have something interesting about them. Finally, Cherry herself is a unique heroine. She’s an orphan set to inherit a substantial amount of money when she comes of age; she lives above the drift by day but by night, acts as collector to earn bounty money to feed a drug habit. I like Cherry but what I really like is that Cooper was brave enough to make Cherry so profoundly flawed. The drug habit eats up Cherry’s money, impacts her decision-making and really makes for one of the most frustrating heroines I’ve encountered. In GILDED, you see her in a tough place, in serious debt to the largest criminal organization in London, the Karakash Veil, torn between safety (a marriage proposal from Lord Compton) and her much valued freedom as a single, wealthy lady, and trying to make some sort of effort to reduce her use of opium. These are all great ingredients for an absorbing read.
Where did I lose interest? I think the plotlines were a little muddled. There was too much going on. Cherry has to find the identity of the Sweet Tooth, a murderer responsible for killing women of the Midnight Menagerie’s pleasure garden, Jack the Ripper is on the loose, and there’s someone killing professors in London-below; we have an alchemical formula Cherry needs to find, a drug habit, and a marriage proposal to consider. There was too much going on. Cherry is also considered to be successful collector with a scientific, shrewd mind yet we never actually see her being totally successful and sometimes not very shrewd. In fact, with regards to the mystery of the murdered professors, there were clues and “a-ha” moments that I thought were pretty obvious, so much so that it was frustrating as a reader to watch her slowly come to those conclusions. There were also times when I thought she should be more concerned about her debt to the Karakash Veil than solving a murder mystery that was essentially a dare from a society friend. I assume these two mysteries will connect but it was a little puzzling to see her spend time on a challenge rather than try to “pay off” a debt owed to a dangerous criminal organization.
As I neared the end of GILDED, I questioned whether or not I would read the next book in the series. Then, WHAM! Cooper hits us with something big. And by big, I mean BIG. So, of course I decided I had to read the next one. In the end, while I appreciate elements of the story and the series as a whole, GILDED was a tough read for me. I give it 3 howls but it borders on a 2.75.