Tarnished by Karina Cooper – Steampunk

Tarnished (The St. Croix Chronicles, #1)Tarnished by Karina Cooper

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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

Ever read a book and it just took you awhile to figure out what direction it was going? That’s a good description for the start of this book. Set in Victorian England, this steampunk novel introduces us to Cherry St. Croix, and an entirely different London. With horrible smog, the rich and important have been lifted high into he London sky, while the rift raft and other undesirables remain stuck in the dark misery of the below.

Cherry is a woman with a foot in both worlds. By day she is an unwanted member of the peerage, a madman’s unconventional daughter deemed to be trying to rise above her the below to collect bounties, usually set by those with power.

Cherry is not your typical romantic heroine and this is not a typical romance book. This is ultimately a murder mystery involving a young heroine coming into her sexuality. The romantic elements a both an after thought but also vital to the story. Cherry is a one minded woman, she wants to reach the age of 21 and gain control of her life and fortune. Her background is an interesting one and explains why she is the way she is, untrusting, secretive, both naive but knowing. She is confident in her abilities to the point of over estimating herself. Hence why she spends a good deal of the book having things fall down around her.

Part of this book is watching Cherry finish maturing. She is naive in thinking that she wants to stay alone forever and constantly pushes people away. Even the servants who have cared for her for years she never sees as hers. They are always the spies for her guardian. Likewise, she doesn’t understand and doesn’t want the feelings that go along with her interactions with Hawke (underworld ruler) and The Earl of Compton. Like her persona, she is torn between one world she feels she belongs in and one world where she is the outcast. In either place she must keep secrets and it is these secrets that are slowly tearing her apart.

Cherry is a deeply flawed character. She uses and abuses opium, not necessarily for the high, but rather as an easier way of not having to deal with any emotion, either current or in regards to her past. It is a crutch that allows her to hold herself away from people and the only way she can keep the extreme abuses she has witnessed and endured under her control. The author does an excellent job at expressing both Cherry’s desperation for the relief opium gives her without idolizing the use or making it seem acceptable.

As stated,in the first half of the book I really had difficulty
Figuring out where the author was going. There are lots of different and competing elements in the book and the only made sense once you got much further along. There is a lot of background information that needs to be exposed and this does slow the pace of the book down while
you push your way through it. But once into the meat of the story I was easily and quickly hooked.

The plot is slightly macabre with gothic overtones. Those paying attention will quickly pick up on the Jack the Ripper connection, which was very well done. By the end, the story goes through more twists and turns then a figure eight, many are completely out of the blue. And while a few questions were answered by the end of the book, many more were left. Who will Cherry end up with? Who is the other collector? Who tried to steal the new ship? Most readers will find themselves interested enough to look for the next book in the series.


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