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Saturday, March 22, 2014


Author:  Lynn Viehl
Plot Type:  Steampunk Romance      
Ratings:  Violence4; Sensuality4; Humor—3 
Publisher and Titles:  Pocket
       "Three Gifts" (free on-line prequel story, 12/2013)
       Disenchanted & Co. (novel, 1/2014; previously published in two separate e-novellas: "Her Ladyship's Curse" [8/2013] and "His Lordship Possessed" [10/2013])
       "My Lord Mayhem" (free on-line story [pdf], 7/2013)
       The Clockwork Wolf (novel, 2/2014)

     The exact time setting for the series is uncertain, but social and cultural clues point towards the late nineteenth century. In this alternate world, England was victorious in the American Revolutionary War, which is here called the Great Uprising.  "When the revolution had been crushed, all the survivors who refused to take an oath of loyalty to the Crown had been marched out of Valley Forge into the snows and made to dig their own graves before they'd been shot and shoved into them." ("Her Ladyship's Curse," Chapter 7) The area that we call the U.S. has been named the Provincial Union of Victorianashortened to Torianaand its citizens are called Torians. The series is set on the West Coast in the city of Rumsen (a city equivalent to San Francisco).

     "Before the gold rush days had brought every scrabbler [farmer] and digger [miner] from the eastern provinces to the west coast, Rumsen had belonged to the Fleers [former revolutionaries], who had crossed the plains rather than give in to Church and state….All trace of the Fleers had been wiped away by the Occupancy, which had established Rumsen as a troop station and trading post, although it really was more of a dumping ground for the misfits and malcontents in the service. The Crown began sending over the deserters, upstarts, and failures from the ranks; if they survived the trek through native lands, they remained in Rumsen on permanent assignment." ("Her Ladyship's Curse," Chapter 1)

     In Rumsen, members of high society (aka the ton, blue-bloods) live on the Hill, a collection of 400 mansions built on the grounds of an old vineyard. The rest of the population lives among the streets, alleys, and tunnels of Rumsen. This world is an amalgam of 19th-century societal customs and steampunk gadgetry. Several everyday conveniences are given a fancifully “modern” touch.  For example, restaurants deliver food to people's homes, but the deliveries are made in buckets sent through the tunnel system. Other tunnels are used for trash and garbage disposal. Still others are used to deliver letters and packages.

     Magic is a big part of Torian life. Many types of mages practice their magical arts, for example, "Heartmages hawking love potions and marriage spells, birthmages who chanted over new mothers and infants, even painmages who…cure headaches, sore backs and the like." ("Her Ladyship's Curse," chapter 9) This mythology includes the netherside, the realm of all things mystical. Netherside is the spirit world that is the source of magical power, a separate realm that is either nearby or attached to the human realm. It can be seem by mages (magic practitioners) but not by mundane humans.

     Each novel and novella includes an extensive "Torian Glossary" of essenaial terms needed to understand the culture and history of this world. As I write this post, Viehl has not yet decided how many novels will be included in the series. It may be a trilogy, or it may be five.

            STORY 1:  "Three Gifts"                  
     This free, on-line short story is a light and fluffy introduction to Kit Kittredge, a feisty young woman who owns her own home and business in Rumsen. On Christmas Eve, a cleric dressed as Santa Claus appears in Kit's living room and pays her to deliver three gifts before midnight to three of her friends (or in the case of the third one, frenemy):       

      > Reginald P. Docket: a gruff old mechanic who lives in the basement of her building (aka the Dungeon)
      > Carina (Rina) Eagle: Kit’s best friend and owner of the Eagle’s Nest, the most popular brothel in Rumsen
      > Lord Lucien Dredmore: Kit's nemesis and wannabe lover; a death mage (magic practitioner who is allowed to kill)    

     Kit is surprised to discover that Police Inspector Thomas Doyle is driving her carri (carriage) from house to house as she makes her deliveries. As the series progresses, Tommy becomes the third point of the series love triangle, with Kit as the prize and Dredmore as Tommy's rival. This short story provides a nice introduction to the series heroine and to four of the most important supporting characters. 

            NOVEL 1:  Disenchanted & Co.                
     This novel was originally published as two separate e-books: "Her Ladyship's Curse" and "His Lordship Possessed." In the novel, these are the titles for Part 1 and Part 2. 

     Charmian (Kit) Kittredge is a private investigator who does not believe in magic. In fact, the name of her business is Disenchanted & Co. She is a rarity in Torian society: an independent woman who owns property, runs her own business, and depends on no man to protect her. Because of her life style, she is looked down upon by almost everyone at every level of Torian society. Although most Torians believe ardently in magic, Kit is a staunch and outspoken unbeliever who is certain that every event blamed on magic can be explained away by reality-based facts. Much to Kit's disgust, her clients have spread the word that she has the ability to dispel magic. Clients frequently ask Kit to undo magical spells and curses, but Kit always determines that the clients' problems are related to real-world causes rather than to magic. She's a Sherlock Holmes-type detective in a pro-magic world, always searching for obscure mundane clues that will debunk magical claims.

     As Part 1 begins, Kit has a new client: Lady Diana Walsh, who claims that her husband's first wife has put a curse on her. She keeps waking up with nasty words (e.g., greedy slut) carved on various parts of her body but she never feels any pain from the carving and the words have generally disappeared 24 hours later when she next awakens. Kit is sure that someone is trying to scare Lady Walsh, so she pretends to be Lady Walsh's long-lost cousin so that she can get into the house and examine the Lady's bedroom. When Kit finds evidence that someone has been hiding under the Lady's bed, she leaves the Lady to tell her husband what is going on, certain that the situation is well in hand. Almost immediately, bad things begin to happen in Kit's life: The police come to her home accusing her of creating a disturbance at the Walsh's home; snuffmages (mercenary sorcerer assassins) attack her on the street; and she is heavily drugged while she is in the police station after the mage attack.

     About a quarter of the way into the story, Kit removes an heirloom pendant from around her neck. Her long-dead parents gave Kit the pendant and told her always to wear it for protection. The man who appears when the pendant is removed is a ghost who tells Kit that he is her grandfather and that his name is Harry White. One of the key story threads in the novel deals with the real truth about Harry. Kit has a tangled genetic heritage, and Harry is the catalyst for her search for the truth about her past.

     Soon, Kit's nemesis, Lucien Dredmore, the former Lord Travallian, involves himself in the case and in her life. Dredmore is a "mentalist, deathmage, and current acknowledged Grand Master of the Dark Arts in the whole of Toriana." ("Her Ladyship's Curse," Chapter 4) He is sort of like James Bond in that he has a license to kill. Dredmore is a handsome loner who has connections at every level of society, and he has made no secret of the fact that he wants Kit and plans to have herno matter how much she protests. He has gone so far as to have one of his minions grab her from the street and tie her up, but so far she has always escaped his clutches. Kit despises Dredmore for his highhanded actions, but she is also mightily attracted to him physically. Part 1 ends as Dredmore locks Kit into a room in his mansion after a passionate scene of lust. Will Kit escape? Who is trying to kill her? Whose side is Inspector Doyle on? What kind of nefarious situation is Lord Walsh involved in?    

     Part 1 is  necessary stuffed with world-building, and to make that less confusing, I recommend that you skim through the glossary before beginning your reading.  Kit's sudden submission to Dredmore at the very end made me feel a bit squirmy. Here is this independent young woman who is determined to make her own way in a man's world, and she gives in to her primary nemesis with barely any resistance. That scene made me lose some of the respect I had built for her based on her words and actions in the earlier chapters. Click HERE to read an excerpt from the chapter 1 of Part 1. Click HERE to read a second excerpt from chapter 1.

     In Part 2, we get the answers to many questions posed in Part 1. Kit finally learns the truth about her heritage and her relationship to magic, and by the end she even learns the truth about her ghostly grandfather. The plot follows Kit through some dark times at the hands of Lord Walsh and his minions as she is arrested and charged with practicing magic without a license, is evicted from her office building, and finds her home destroyed by vandals. Kit continues to investigate, sometimes alone and sometimes with Dredmore, trying to figure out exactly why Lord Walsh hates and fears her so much that he is determined to do away with her completely. I'm not going to try to summarize the complicated plot because it would give away spoilers. I'll just say that both Kit and Dredmore put their lives on the line for each other as the story proceeds toward its slam-bang, woo-woo climax. In those final scenes, the true villains are unveiled, her grandfather's true identity is revealed, and Kit learns the truth about her magical genetics. References are made to the "Great War," which in our reality was World War I (1914-1917), but in this world, its time period is unclear. This part of the novel adds some new elements to the world-building, but you'll have to read it for yourself because I don't give spoilers. 

     The plot of Part 2 is exceedingly complicated, and it relies on the readers' knowledge of the complex mythology for the series. The new aspects of the world-building are unveiled quickly in this section as events more swiftly along to their final resolution. The relationship between Kit and Dredmore is a bit more palatable at this point, particularly after Kit learns some deeply personal information about his earlier life. 

     Viehl has created an inventive world here, with a complex and detailed mythology (thank heavens for the extensive glossary!) and a cast of quirky characters who add humor and depth to the plots. Unfortunately, the villains are one-note evildoers with no redeeming characteristics, so they are not very interesting. All in all, this is turning out to be another solid series for Viehl, and I'm looking forward to the next stories and novels. Click HERE to read an excerpt from the fourth chapter of Part 2, "His Lordship Possessed." Click HERE for a second excerpt, this time from the end of chapter 7 and the beginning of chapter 8.

            STORY 2:  "My Lord Mayhem"              
     The soul-mate lovers in this free, on-line story are Laurana Walsh (whom we met in the first novel) and Lord Percival Fenwick. Laurana is a tall, 32-year-old, no-nonsense spinster who has spent her life doing good worksor at least that's what she tells everyone that she is doing. Laurana was once nearly engaged to Percival, but she learned some information from her mother's dying words that forced her to break off their relationship without explanation.  

     One night, when Laurana accompanies her father to a ball, the party guests are suddenly terrorized by a masked marauder who claims to be Lord Mayhem, the notorious Robin Hood-like figure who breaks into the homes of the rich and steals their riches for distribution to the poor. Laurana, however, realizes that this man is not the real Lord Mayhem for reasons that are not divulged until later in the story.

     As it turns out, Laurana has a magical talent that allows her to move around at night in a state of near invisibility. When she sneaks out to investigate the mystery of the true identity of the fake Lord Mayhem, she is shocked to discover that Percy is deeply involved. Needless to say, after a bit of cloak and dagger adventure, she and Percy achieve their     HEA.

     Events in this story take place simultaneously with events in Part 1 of Disenchantment & Co. In fact, in one scene (Kit's second visit to the Walsh's home) the dialogue at the dinner table is identical.    

     This story is more of a romance than an urban fantasy, although the action plot is more important than is usual in a paranormal romance. Our first meeting with Laurana in the previous novel was quite brief, so it's nice to see her in a situation that provides more depth to her character. Manybut not allof the twists and turns are relatively predictable, but that doesn't really spoil the story. 

            NOVEL 2:  The Clockwork Wolf              
     As the story opens, Kit is surprised when Dredmore asks for her assistance in solving the mystery surrounding the death of the husband of one of Kit's bitter enemies: Lady Eugenia Bestly. Eugenia is a prim and proper high-society woman who made life absolutely miserable for Kit when she first came to Rumsen eight years ago after her parents died. At that time, Kit was a poor seventeen-year-old who arrived with nothing more than the clothes on her back. Eugenia took it upon herself to smear Kit's name, get her fired, and blackball her among other possible employerseventually reducing her to "sleeping on park benches and digging through rubbish cans for scraps so I wouldn't starve." (chapter 2) Kit,  though, is inherently compassionate and forgiving, so she reluctantly takes the case, although Eugenia's story is extremely strange and shocking. She claims that before her husband died, he turned into a wolfman who raped her and then ran off and murdered several men in a city park. Eugenia believes that he was under some sort of magical spell, and she wants Kit to get to the bottom of the mystery.

     When more and more wolfmen begin attacking people all over Rumsenraping and biting the ladies and killing the menKit teams up with Dredmore and Chief Inspector Tommy Doyle, gathering clues and poking into dark magical corners. Then, Kit herself is attacked by two of the creatures, managing to get away only with assistance from her ghostly partner (and grandfather), Harry. The next time they attack her, one of the wolfmen bites her. Soon, it is evident that the wolfmen's master and creator is specifically targeting Kit and that he has a horrifying reason for having his monsters attack women. This novel continues the Aramanthan story line that began in Part 1 of Disenchanted & Co., but with several new magical twists.

     World-building for the native population of Toriana was introduced in the first novel, but the natives were not part of the plot. In The Clockwork Wolfman, Viehl delves deeper into that mythology as several natives play key roles in the story. When a native shaman wearing a blue-feathered cape rescues Kit from yet another wolfman attack, she realizes that there is a direct connection between the wolfmen and the natives. In this alternative world, the natives live just as they did in the real 19th century: under relatively primitive conditions and with little tolerance from the white population, who regard them as savages. As the suspense builds and the attacks escalate, it's up to Kit to save the city by resolving the conflict between the wolfmen's master and the natives' chief shaman. In this novel, Kit suffers even more physical injuries than usual: she is bitten twiceby a wolfman and a mechanical rat, man-handled and/or beaten by several different assailants, and abducted first by the natives and then by the primary villain. 

     Meanwhile, Kit has another conflict to resolvethis time, a romantic one. Both Dredmore and Tommy Doyle are vying for her affections, and she has strong feelings (both lustful and loving) for both of them. Although both are asking for a permanent commitment, Kit isn't looking for marriage: "Not that I wanted a husband; they always expected wives to clean and cook and carry children. On the list of things I disliked immensely, those three ranked in the top ten." (chapter 3) Who will Kit chooseif she even deigns to make a choice?

     This plot doesn't have as many twists and turns as the first novel, but it does have plenty of suspense and action. Unfortunately, that action results in many women suffering great harm at the hands of some villainous men, and that is always a turn-off for me.  I'm looking forward to the next installment and hoping that Kit will maintain her independence and continue her fight for justice and equality in this male-centric world.

     Two new developments will no doubt be turning up in subsequent stories: the fact that Kit discovers that she isn't the only spirit-born woman in Rumsen, and the shocking realization that some newborn babies are being born with strange genetic idiosyncrasies. Click HERE to read the first excerpt from that book. Click HERE to read the second.  

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