Review: Corroded by Karina Cooper

Corroded by Karina CooperFormat read: ebook provided by NetGalley
Formats available: ebook, audiobook
Genre: Steampunk, Urban fantasy
Series: The St. Croix Chronicles, #3
Length: 264 pages
Publisher: Carina Press
Date Released: September 23, 2013
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Kobo

Hungry for vengeance, Cherry St. Croix is forced to the fog-ridden streets of Victorian London.

My rival, a collector of bounties like myself, has murdered one of my own. In consequence, I have been removed from my house, my staff and all who would support me. I have nowhere else to turn, so I beg asylum within the Midnight Menagerie, London’s decadent pleasure garden.

Micajah Hawke’s dominance there will not tolerate my presence for long. I am fixated on revenge, but I walk a razor’s edge under his scrutiny. His wicked power is not easily ignored, and I must not allow myself to submit—no matter how sweet the sacrifice.

Challenging my rival to a race is the only way to end this—no small task when the quarry is the murderous Jack the Ripper. As my enemies close in, I fear the consequences of this hunt. I am trapped between two killers, and what doesn’t kill me may leave its scars forever.

My Review:

tarnished by karina cooperCorrosion; it’s not just a way to think about the type of cage that Cherry St. Croix finds herself trapped in, it’s a metaphor for Cherry herself. In the full-length third memoir (after Tarnished, reviewed at Book Lovers Inc. and Gilded, reviewed here) of Cherry’s adventures, she has tripped over the line from being an opium user to an addict.

Going from bride to widow in the space of five hours will do that to a person, if one is inclined that way. Particularly if one feels that one is the cause of one’s own widowhood.

It takes Cherry a goodly chunk of the story to figure out that she has been herded into the extremely low point that she finds herself in, and for her to finally start to take some charge of her actions.

Of course, by then her opium addiction has taken way too much charge of her, there are too many times when she isn’t sure whether what she sees and remembers is dream, nightmare, vision or truth.

Cherry has become the most unreliable of narrators to her own life story, and all the more fascinating for it. She has fallen, and she has fallen far, but there is still such a spark left in her that you continue to want her to burn her way her back out of the depths to which she has sunk.

Now that she has hit bottom, she recognizes that the life she formerly despised was, in fact, a terrific life. She wishes she could turn back the clock, but knows that she can’t. She wants to bury her pain, but finally understands that oblivion will not bring either peace or revenge. All it has done is hurt anyone who provides her with even a night’s shelter.

But the answers we discover at the end, and the new questions that arise, are simply staggering.

Escape Rating B+: Reading Cherry St. Croix’s story requires a love of very dark steampunk and a willingness to hang on for an extremely rough and heart-rending ride with a broken heroine who has chosen not to save herself.

The description makes Cherry sound self-indulgent, and there is that in her, but that’s not nearly the whole picture. She’s always been broken, and she’s held herself together as best she could. She’s never allowed herself to be vulnerable or reveal her inner self to anyone, and a life of constant vigilance and pretense has almost completely done her in. Still she perseveres, sometimes in spite of herself.

The secondary characters are amazing, not just Micajah Hawke, who may be the love interest, or the magician, or may become the next villain. The mutability of where people fit into the story is one of the strengths of the series. But Ishmael Communion, who is both gang leader and Cherry’s stalwart friend, continues to reveal hidden depths. New character Maddie Rose is a delightful addition.

We end the story with some answers, and many more questions. The situation is mostly worse, but possibly with a light at the end of a very long, dark tunnel. (One character I did wonder about is back, but we still don’t know if he’s an angel or a demon, or both.)

There are no purely good people left in Cherry’s world. Everyone is shaded grey, the question is how much grey, and how close to completely black?

If Cherry cannot master her addiction, she is going to kill herself with it, and in short order. That may be the first part of the next book, presuming there is a next book. I fervently hope there is a next book.

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

Review: Gilded by Karina Cooper

Gilded by Karina CooperFormat read: ebook provided by Edelweiss
Formats available: ebook, paperback, mass market paperback
Genre: urban fantasy, steampunk
Series: The St. Croix Chronicles, #2
Length: 384 pages
Publisher: Avon
Date Released: December 26, 2012
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

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.

My Review:

I think there’s a theme to the titles of the books in Karina Cooper’s St. Croix Chronicles. Her terribly flawed heroine, Cherry St. Croix, always feels as if she is living in some kind of cage. The titles of the books in the series, Tarnished, Gilded, and book 3, Corroded, represent the type of cage that Cherry is trapped in during that part of her life.

Yes, I know, the prequel novella, The Mysterious Case of Mr. Strangeway, doesn’t fit the pattern, but there’s always an exception that fits the rule.

The world of the St. Croix Chronicles is a very dark steampunk version of London where the division between rich and poor has been made quite visibly manifest. An engineer who went stark raving mad found a way to raise London’s wealthy districts above the murk and pea-soup fogs created by her industries, while leaving the poor in the wretchedness of London quite literally below.

The social strata given form.

Cherry straddles two worlds, and not just because of her unconventional parents and hidden unsavory upbringing, but because she herself has been unable to settle into the role (she would call it a strait-jacket) that Victorian society forces on upper-class females.

Also, she is still addicted to opium, a legacy of her lost days in the underworld, and she requires a method of paying for continued habit.

tarnished by karina cooperIn Tarnished (reviewed at Book Lovers Inc.) Cherry tells the story of her continuing to lead the double life of society miss by day and London’s only female Collector, that is bounty hunter, by night, while keeping her household, and society, in the dark as she waits out the last days before she turns of age and can claim her rights to her inheritance.

But instead of freedom, the Midnight Menagerie sunk its own claim into her as she meddled in something either alchemical, magical or scientific beyond her ability to escape.

In Gilded, Cherry discovers that society has its own methods of forcing her to do its will, even as she beats her hands against the bars of the cage she feels closing around her. And even though she knows that marriage is a trap for any woman who would otherwise possess her own fortune, the Midnight Menagerie blackmails her into doing their bidding.

It is only then that she discovers the true nature of the cage that she has stepped into, even as she hears the key turning in the lock.

Escape Rating B+: The St. Croix series gets darker and grittier as it goes, and it keeps going downward in that sense. It’s very good, but don’t read it if you’re looking for a “pick me up”! While I won’t spoil the ending, I will say that you will not leave this story with a smile. More like a heartrending moan.

Cherry is hunting Jack the Ripper and someone is hunting her. This was established in Tarnished and is still part of the underlying plot in Gilded, but the overarching story in Gilded is the “what is Cherry going to do” story. Everyone in London above is hell-bent on Cherry marrying Earl Compton before she reaches her majority except Cherry. I almost wonder if there’s a plot behind that, now that I think about it.

Cherry is also trying to solve a murder at King’s and University Colleges, one that also involves female rights, so again, there’s the theme of what rights do women have and someone seems to be making sure that Cherry can’t claim hers. This may be my interpretation.

Cherry is incredibly flawed, and the story is told from her first-person perspective. She is unquestionably an opium addict, even if she can’t admit it to herself. She’s not even trying to quit. Sometimes she runs out of funds and can’t buy any, but she has no intention of quitting. Her usage simply spirals up and down as fortunes permit. I’m not sure I’ve ever read of an unrepentant addict as a hero or heroine before. She lies, she cheats, she steals, and she loses track of everything she says and does. But she still solves her cases, eventually. She also makes horrific mistakes because of her addiction. But in at least two cases, it also saves her life.

Which makes Cherry’s opium the very model of a conflict of desires.

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

Review: Tarnished by Karina Cooper

Tarnished by Karina CooperFormat read: ebook provided by Edelweiss
Series: The St. Croix Chronicles, #1
Genre: Steampunk, Urban Fantasy
Release Date: June 26, 2012
Number of pages: 384 pages
Publisher: Avon
Formats available: ebook, paperback, mass market paperback
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website | Goodreads | Amazon | B&N | Kobo | Book Depository US | Book Depository (UK) | Publisher’s Website

My name is Cherry St. Croix. Society would claim that I am a well-heeled miss with an unfortunate familial reputation. They’ve no idea of the truth of it. In my secret world, I hunt down vagrants, thieves . . . and now, a murderer. For a monster stalks London’s streets, leaving a trail of mystery and murder below the fog.

Eager for coin to fuel my infatuations, I must decide where my attentions will turn: to my daylight world, where my scientific mind sets me apart from respectable Society, or to the compelling domain of London below. Each has a man who has claimed my time as his—for good or for ill. Though as the corpses pile, and the treacherous waters of Society gossip churn, I am learning that each also has its dangers. One choice will see me cast from polite company . . . the other might just see me dead.

My Thoughts:

Tarnished is an extremely apt title for this book, because Cherry St. Croix is one of the most flawed heroines it will ever be your pleasure to meet. Cherry isn’t just flawed, she’s just this side of broken.

Just this side, you understand, she isn’t quite broken, although she probably should be.

Tarnished is very definitely steampunk, and also steampunk of the dark and gritty persuasion. Cherry’s London is not for the faint of heart. Even Cherry requires opium to cope with it.

That’s right, our heroine is an opium addict. She’s also a bounty hunter. Also an unrepentant liar.

What makes Cherry interesting is that she’s an outsider no matter which way she turns, so her perspective is always that of someone with their nose pressed against the glass, peering in at a world they can observe, but never quite be part of.

In London above, she’s the daughter of a Mad St. Croix, a scientist who died in an experiment gone wrong. Society is afraid that Cherry might have inherited his madness along with his wealth. What society isn’t so certain of is that she was sold to a circus after the accident, and spent years as an acrobat and a thief.

In London below, she’s known as Miss Black, the only female “collector” to ply the dangerous trade. She’s a bounty hunter who turns in men and women who otherwise refuse to pay their debts to “The Midnight Menagerie”, a magical pleasure-palace.

In London above, Jack the Ripper is killing prostitutes, and the newspapers have started an outcry. In London below, someone is killing sweets, the slaves who belong to the Menagerie, and harvesting their organs for a gruesome scientific experiment. Officially, no one cares, but unofficially, Cherry takes the bounty.

mysterious case of mr strangeway by karina cooperEven more unofficially, Cherry becomes the bounty, and everything she thought she knew turns upside down.

Verdict: The Cherry St. Croix series is definitely for those who like their steampunk on the extra-dark side. I’m saying this because her world is not a nice or light place, especially not London below, and Cherry isn’t your typical bluestocking heroine. On the other hand, this particular series isn’t reliant on a lot of gears and automatons so far.

Cherry became a collector (see The Mysterious Case of Mr. Strangeway for details) in order to be able to purchase more opium than her guardian would allow. Notice I didn’t say purchase it at all, just to purchase more than was acceptable.

In Tarnished, Cherry is on the verge of coming into her inheritance. She is also straddling two worlds, and there is a man with a secret in each world. She can’t seem to choose between them. Lord Compton seems to represent the safe, society choice, except that Cherry has seen him entering an opium den. Cage Hawke represents the dangerous choice, as he is the major-domo of the Menagerie. But no one is as they seem, including Cherry.

I found myself wondering exactly who (or possibly what) Cherry’s mysterious guardian really was. Cherry doesn’t seem to have encountered him in daylight and outside of nightmares. He’s going to be important at some point.

Tarnished sets up the series and introduces Cherry’s unique voice. There is a case to be solved, a steampunk Jack the Ripper who may be using alchemy, or who may be a scientist, or may be both. He might even be a necromantic version of Dr. Frankenstein, and if that doesn’t give you nightmares, then nothing will.


I give  Tarnished by Karina Cooper 4 hazy stars!

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.