Tempered and Engraved – No.4 & 5 of the St Croix Chronicles by Karina Cooper

Today I’ll be reviewing two books in preparation for reviewing the final episode, book No.6, of the St Croix Chronicles.  This review will definitely contain spoilers for previous books so please be aware of that.

If you’re unfamiliar with Cherry St Croix she’s led a very chequered past.  Orphaned at an early age and then sold into the circus her life was on a downward spiral involving crime and drugs until she was rescued by her guardian (Oliver Ashmore) and placed in one of the upper households (of London above) to be transformed into a lady!  Her past has a strange hold however and whilst she could languish in relative comfort she returns frequently to the streets of London below – where she has become a Collector (a bounty hunter) hired by the Veil and becoming more entangled with the lives of those within it’s grasp.  The Menagerie, and more to the point The Veil, are not for the faint hearted as Cherry is becoming all too aware – unfortunately she needs the money to fund her habit!

Tempered

At the start of Tempered Cherry has once again been rescued by her guardian who has literally plucked her from the grounds of the Menagerie to place her within the confines of a mansion, deep inside the countryside and away from temptation.  Ashmore intends to break Cherry of her addiction whether she wishes to be sober or not.

No.4 has a decidedly different feel to the first three books and one that I really liked.  The story is confined entirely to the strange mansion where Cherry is being held and due to this the novel has an oddly dark and gothic feel to it.  There are decaying wings, strange dreams, dark shadows where things lurk not to mention the suggestion of hidden laboratories.  It all has a lovely creepiness to it that speaks of a combination of Frankenstein and Udolpho.  At the start of the story we see Cherry brought to her lowest yet, the previous book saw her tormented by addiction and this book sees her struggle to break its hold – even if this isn’t voluntary!  We learn a good deal more about her Guardian – Ashmore and he really does turn into quite a character.  On top of this there are a number of twists – yes, I had the inkling when something didn’t feel quite right but even so when certain elements were revealed I was still a bit stunned!  Be prepared for surprises, not least of all, in the absence of some of the more steampunk elements of the story – the introduction of alchemy and the search for immortality!

Engraved

At the start of No.5 Cherry and Ashmore have agreed upon a plan for Cherry to return to London.  She may now be dry of her addiction – although admittedly this is always a constant struggle, but she’s not free of the feelings she holds for the Menagerie’s Circus Master – Hawke.  The last time Cherry was in his presence he betrayed her trust and yet still she would return to try and rescue him.  Things in London down under have changed drastically.  The fighting between the street gangs has escalated and is about to break out into all out war – unfortunately one of these gangs seems to have aligned themselves with the Veil and in doing so have acquired inhuman strength and killing ability and at the centre is Hawke!

I’m not going to deny that Cherry seems to spend a good deal of time running backwards and forwards in this book and sometimes I struggled to understand exactly what she thought she was achieving and between her dizzying episodes and Hawke acting like an animal the plot sometimes got a little muddled.  However, to be honest I just went with the story.  I have to hand it to Karina Cooper – she’s rather excellent at evoking the emotions and setting the scene.  When you’re in the midst of fight you can practically smell the fear, sweat and bloody, if there’s a fire you can feel the heat as it sears victims alive – and make no mistake, there’s plenty of action going on here!  Not to mention, a perfect setup for the final book!

I won’t deny that I have criticisms about Cherry – sometimes she doesn’t seem to think very clearly (to say the least), she’s self centred and she’s led a very shady existence – however, if you’ve followed the series from the start you’ll know her story and it will make things more understandable.  I would definitely say this is not a series that you could just start in the middle.  I think you need the gradual build up, the picture of place laying out and the history that has brought Cherry to her current self.  And, that makes it all the more satisfying that at the end of this story her actions felt more reasonable and thought through.

This is certainly a twist laden and entertaining tale.  Now, I will mention that I’m not really a romance reader and that includes PNR – so, I’m not an expert where either of those is involved – I think this series is described as Urban Fantasy but I’m inclined to also veer towards PNR, or at least say that this borders on it.  I’m not an expert on what constitutes PNR so perhaps somebody else can help me out with that aspect.  There is certainly a strong theme of love running through the book (whether or not people will admit it!) and lets just be honest there’s a tad of sex, although this isn’t what the story is all about.  Basically, adult themes, sex, drugs and violence are included and I can’t deny that Cooper can make a scene sizzle!  That’s all I’m saying. Personally, I find myself torn now as I really like Ashmore!

Anyway, on to No.6 and to find out how all this ends!  I have no doubt that it will be fast paced and written in Cooper’s tongue in cheek style.

Tarnished by Karina Cooper (No 1 of the St Croix Chronicles)

I just finished reading Tarnished, the first in the St Croix Chronicles.  I really enjoyed this, part of me feels like it’s a guilty pleasure.  Let’s face it, there is a rather hot guy in this book (well, some might think two in fact), part of me thinks it’s just really good fun (which always sounds like it’s a derogatory description even though it’s not) and partly because there’s a mystery here (unresolved) all rolled up in old fashioned gothic type stories that bring to mind a strange mash up of Frankenstein and tales of the Ripper, brought together in a foggy, dark steampunkish London with a strange criminal underworld.  What’s not to like really?

This series brings to us a new Victorian London.  Part steampunk, part mysterious gothic horror and by the looks of this first book giving a little shout out to the style of a penny dreadful type series.  London has literally been split into two – and I’m not talking about the North and the South here but the upper and the lower.  Using stilts and all sorts of other weird and wonderful contraptions the upper echelons of London have actually moved above ground to escape from the thick fog (not to mention the criminal underworld).  Cherry St Croix is a young lady of means (or at least she will be when she comes of an age to inherit).  She lives in London (above ground) in a rather lovely house with a collection of servants and yet – during the dark of night she sneaks below ground to undertake her role as collector.  A role that helps to feed her opium habit.

Cherry is indeed set to inherit a fortune but not more than a few years ago her fortunes were somewhat different.  Her mother and (slightly mad) father died and she became an orphan.  She became part of a circus, living life as a young criminal and being fed opium.  She was of course rescued, set up in a fashionable abode above ground and instructed in the ways of a lady.  Of course the upper classes can’t really forgive her background – a beautiful mother with wealth and status who married beneath her status to a mad scientist – the horror!  Cherry is a character with a past.  A past that she can’t forget and that leads her over and over again into dangerous situations that would give the ladies above palpitations.

I’m not saying Cherry is perfect – I mean she’s got a serious habit going on here and I’m not referring to sneaking out of an evening dressed in trousers! (smelling salts anyone…)   However, in her defence, to date she has lead a rather strange and frightening life and she has the nightmares to prove it.  Her habits stem from a desire to sleep, if not well, at least without the presence of demons.

Anyway, Cherry collects – which basically means that, she brings people in with outstanding debts or other misdemeanours and is paid a fee appropriate to the case – she doesn’t accept certain jobs, such as children and she doesn’t take on murders.  Over the few years she has undertaken this role, sneaking out of a night and then sleeping in bed late during the day, she has developed a sort of network of maybe not friends, but at least people that she could rely on in a pinch.  She knows her way around and how to handle herself but in a way that has lead her into a certain sort of complacency.

This story is the set up for future books in the series.  There’s a rather dreadful murderer called The Sweet Tooth who appears to be attacking and killing Sweets (aka ladies of the night) and maybe taking body parts for some nefarious purpose!  Could this become a potential collection job for Cherry.  It’s a dangerous mission involving underground tunnels and abandoned railway yards – not to mention the attention of the Menagerie – the Menagerie is very much a ‘below’ London establishment (although it wouldn’t surprise me at all if a few of the upper inhabitants paid it a visit).  It seems to have oriental roots and is strictly controlled by the Veil and run by Micajah (sometimes known as Cage).  It’s a pleasure zone but not one you would want to cross lightly.

I won’t really go too much more into the plot.  It involves a few twists along the way.  A book of opposites.  Above and Below.  Good and Bad.  Paranormal and Normal.  Upper classes and lower.

This book includes so much.  There’s the steampunk aspect, the mystery, the murders, the mad scientists and the strange and macabre.  As well as that there is a brewing romance which in no way takes over the story but adds a certain element of spice that will surely heat up in further instalments.  It’s certainly not a serious book and it in now way intends to be so (or at least that’s my take) but it was a very enjoyable read and I have the next two waiting to be read already!