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.
Corrosion; 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.