My rating: 4 of 5 stars
The cover seduced me, I confess it.
I am a sucker for beautiful design, and dragons, and all things red and gold, so I was hooked the instant this bad boy caught my eye from across the library. The cover blurb informing me that the plot combined magic and nineteenth century London? Well. Line and sinker right there. Call me a fish and reel me in.
But that’s just the cover. For the innards, the books-are-food analogy isn’t fish-related. This book is a grapefruit. It isn’t a sweet orange, with fragrant scent and sweet along with the sour. It has a lumpy rind, a bit of bitterness, and some strange flavors that don’t mix well.
I’m pleased to report that the writing did live up to the stylish presentation of the outsides. The seductive element is there too. The descriptions are meticulous but much is left to inference, the dialogue is pithy and understated, and relationships are presented with an sense of not-quite-tight third person POV — as if the narrator is offering not-always-flattering judgments on the people even while you’re reading things from their point of view. It feels like an Austen novel. That’s the best I can do.
The plot wrestles with misogyny and race and magic and British society of the period in some odd ways that may be off-putting for some and seem too blatantly progressive to others. It hit the sweet spot for me due to that nod-and-a-wink feel I mentioned earlier. The characters are…odd. I honestly didn’t like any of them most of the time, and found them irritating at others. Then again, that’s also true of Emma, my favorite Austen novel, so it’s all a matter of taste.
I actually despise real grapefruit, but I ate up this grapefruit of a book with barely a pause to come up for air. And I’m licking my lips for more.