Review: Crystal Gardens by Amanda Quick

Crystal Garden by Amanda QuickFormat read: hardcover borrowed from the Library
Formats available: ebook, hardcover, large print paperback, mass market paperback, audiobook
Genre: Paranormal romance, Historical romance
Series: Ladies of Lantern Street, #1
Length: 347 pages
Publisher: Jove Books
Date Released: April 24, 2012
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

Evangeline Ames has rented a country cottage far from the London streets where she was recently attacked. Fascinated by the paranormal energy of nearby Crystal Gardens, she finds pleasure in sneaking past the wall to explore the grounds. And when her life is threatened again, she instinctively goes to the gardens for safety.

Lucas Sebastian has never been one to ignore a lady in danger, even if she is trespassing on his property. Quickly disposing of her would-be assassin, he insists they keep the matter private. There are rumors enough already, about treasure buried under his garden and occult botanical experiments performed by his uncle—who died of mysterious causes. With Evangeline’s skill for detection, and Lucas’s sense of the criminal mind, they soon discover that they have a common enemy. And as the energy emanating from Crystal Gardens intensifies, they realize that to survive they must unearth what has been buried for too long.

As I read Crystal Gardens, I kept thinking that there would be a point where this Ladies of Lantern Street series would somehow connect with Quick’s (also known as Jayne Ann Krentz and Jayne Castle) Arcane Society/Harmony series.

All the elements are definitely present for this book to flow directly into the Arcane Society. And that’s not a bad thing!

Evangeline Ames is an independent woman in the Victorian Era, a time when women had very few options open to them if they wished to remain independent. Evie appears to be a ladies’ companion, someone who lives with unmarried rich females and serves as a chaperone. However, it’s all a disguise. Her true position is as an inquiry agent for the female-owned firm of Flint & Marsh, and her last investigation ended badly. She discovered that the gentleman pursuing Lady Rutherford’s granddaughter was the fortune hunter that her grandmother suspected, but that revelation came at a price.

Said fortune hunter died in mysterious circumstances. And someone from the London criminal underworld has pursued Evie to the countryside with the intent of murdering her.

Instead, Evie uses her paranormal abilities to save herself and thwart her would-be murderer, with the assistance of her country neighbor. And that’s where the fun begins.

The ladies of Lantern Street are both Mrs. Flint and Mrs. Marsh, as well as the the women they employ as inquiry agents. One of the requirements for positions with the firm is paranormal talent. Evie has the ability to raise or suppress someone else’s paranormal and physical energy currents. She can soothe a fever, she can keep a heart beating, or she can push someone into unconsciousness. She can go too far.

The other ladies, whom we meet in the later books, have other talents.

Evie was drawn to the town of Little Digby because it has a garden famous for its paranormal energies. The owner of the garden, and the estate it belongs to, is Lucas Sebastian. Sebastian is a hunter talent. He’s come to back to Little Digby to discover why his uncle’s experimental garden has, in effect, gone rogue.

What he discovers is Evie Ames trespassing in his garden in order to escape her would-be killer. Sebastian is more than willing to let the garden have the assassin. For dinner. But now that his hunter talent is focused on protecting Evie, he’ll do anything to keep her safe. But he can’t let her go.

Escape Rating B+: Crystal Gardens reminded me just how much fun Amanda Quick’s historical paranormal romances can be. This was absolutely a pleasure to read.
The story does set up the Ladies of Lantern Street trilogy. We meet all three of the “Ladies” as well as get the background on Flint & Marsh. I’ve read that this connects with the Arcane Society, but not officially. It does seem like the same world.

I enjoyed the give and take between Evie and Lucas in this story. One of the things that makes Quick’s Arcane historicals work for me is that she gives a reasonable explanation for why her female characters are so anachronistically independent. Evie always stands up to Lucas, to the point of eventually managing his relationship with his stepmother and half-siblings, but her independence makes sense in light of her background.

Lucas reveals himself over the course of the story. It’s not so much a redemption arc as a peeling back layers of secrets, but it allows him to show that he has changed and is capable of more.

The paranormal elements add sparkle, even if there are sometimes literal thorns!

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