Plot Type: SMR Fantasy, Steampunk
Ratings: V4; S4; H3
Publisher and Titles: Pocket
Wicked As They Come (3/2012)
"The Mysterious Madam Morpho" (e-novella, 10/2012)
"The Peculiar Pets of Miss Pleasance" (e-novella, 4/2013)
Wicked As She Wants (4/2013)
The Mysterious Mr. Murdoch is Crim's artificer and metallurgical zoologist, which means that he constructs and programs the many clockwork animals that provide security for the caravan and participate in some of the acts. Murdoch is even more mysterious than Imogene. Most of the carnivalleros have never seen him, and they spin all kinds of stories and rumors about him in the absence of any concrete facts about his life. Surprisingly (or not), Murdoch allows Imogene to see him, talk with him, and even share a romantic moment.
Both Madam Morpho and Mr. Murdoch are on the run, each for a different reason. The story line follows the development of their romance and the eventual resolution of their problems with the law.
This is a nice little story that is enhanced by the presence of the quirky caravan folk. The lead couple falls in love way too quickly, but this is a novella, after all, so there isn't much time for the usual cutesy foreplay (although at one point, Murdoch tells Imogene, "You are the most fascinating creature I've ever met that wasn't made of metal.").
As the story opens, Frannie rescues Casper from being chewed up by bludrats as he lies drunk in an alley after being hit over the head. Because Casper looks exactly like Frannie's dead brother, she drags him home and allows him to stay in her spare room as a lodger until he gets himself together. Casper isn't a very nice person in this story as he constantly gets drunk, breaks his promise to help Frannie around the shop, and tries to hit on her even though she tells him, "No thanks." At this point in his life, Casper is a famous (and obnoxious) London harpsichordist—kind of a rock star—and his ego is bigger than ever.
When someone firebombs Frannie's house, the firemen save the building, and Thom, the fire chief, falls for Frannie (and vice versa). The story follows the development of their romance as they try to figure out who is trying to harm Frannie and why. The answer to that question doesn't really make much sense, but if you don't think about it too hard, the story, in general, is nicely told, with a a pair of lead lovers who have quirky back stories and interesting personalities. All the way through, the reader learns that Casper is something more (or less) than human, but no concrete information is given about his "condition." That must wait for novel 2.
For the first half of the book, Ahna is an insufferable, arrogant shrew, treating Casper as if he were her slave and generally making herself as obnoxious as possible. When Casper kisses her fairly early in the story, it's a bit of a shock to the reader, because she has been so completely unpleasant and there has been no hint of romantic feelings on his part. The plot follows Casper and Ahna as they make their way to Freesia so that Ahna can defeat (and kill) Ravenna, the witch who killed her parents and took over the throne. Also along for the ride is Lorelei Keen, a young girl whom Casper rescued after she entered Sang as a Stranger.
Although this book has a few compelling moments, it's just not up to the high standard set by Wicked As They Get. Ahna is such an unpleasant character for much of the story that it's hard to have much sympathy for her. Casper fares much better in this book as he comes to terms with his addiction to bludwine and begins to control his drunkenness. He's a much kinder person in this book than in any of the previous stories. Several characters from previous parts of the series either appear or are discussed (e.g., Reve, the daimon costumer; Mr. Sweeting, the evil daimon sorcerer) As the story line plays out, Casper is reading Walt Whitman's Song of Myself and he keeps inserting lines from that poem into his conversations with Ahna—kind of interesting but also a bit odd because some of the lines are relatively obscure.
For me, the weakest element (other than Ahna's annoying character) is the ending, both the part dealing with Casper's fate and the requisite showdown between Ahna and Ravenna. Without going into any Spoilers, I'll just say that they both felt anticlimactic and, in the case of Casper, relatively predictable. Maybe my problem is that I was so blown away by the first book in the series that I find it hard to accept the fact that the author has been unable to match the intensity, plot development, and characterization of that book—not in this book and not in the two novellas. This isn't a terrible book by any definition; it's just not as good as I expected it to be.
There is little contact between our modern-day mortal earth and the land of Sang, but in book 1, we learn that some people from the modern mortal world can travel to Sang while their bodies are either asleep or in a coma state. The people of Sang call these time travelers "strangers" and they are immediately imprisoned if they are caught.