This book is a cross between a Victorian Era romance in tone and steampunk in world. It is delightful, and I regret waiting so long to read it after I purchased a box set of the first four books on the recommendation of a friend. I have only read the first book so far, and the series feels more like an epic broken into parts than something where each stands wholly on its own. At the same time, this book contains a full story arc. Lady Claire’s circumstances undergo a radical change from the sheltered schoolgirl she is in the beginning, with dreams of convincing her father to send her to university rather than finding a husband on the marriage mart as society expects.
The beginning is well written, introducing the main character, Claire, along with what type of person she is and whom she chooses to befriend. It then gives us a clear look at her hopes and dreams, expanding that picture further and drawing the reader into her inner thoughts. We see how this society is similar to, and different from, traditional Victorian romances like those penned by Georgette Heyer. For all she’s in a finishing school that teaches young ladies their household duties, Claire prefers the classes in the sciences, especially chemistry.
The book also has much in common with the historical fiction from that era I enjoy with its attention to the blissful ignorance of the wealthy and the squalor of the poor. We learn about both the Royal Society of Engineers and an effort to push Britain to a combustion engine over steam, a tension in technology as well as society, and one with economic consequences.
The narrative tone is an overblown internal monologue much of the time, appropriate to the period and the main character. I found it delightful, and informative, along with enjoying Claire’s absorption with machinery and the practice of experimental science.
Possibly because I’m both a steampunk and Victorian Era literature fan, there are many humorous moments that poke fun at the deviations from our timeline, all without breaking the narrative stride. At the same time, the book remains true to the change in wealth from land-based to technology, with the added problems of failed investments rocking the traditional foundations of power. Speaking of the writing, the seeding of seemingly random events or information is well done. Some (but not all) of them become important, and we remember how Claire came to be knowledgeable when it would otherwise seem unlikely.
I failed to recognize the significance of James Selwyn until he is revealed again with his business partner, Andrew Malvern. I find this funny because I had the same reaction to how James met Claire that he did. My note reads, “She is accidentally an original” at that point, my attention drawn just as pointedly as his. This is both a similarity to the romance style and a difference because Claire remains oblivious to her effect and no one is there to point it out to her.
By virtue of having the viewpoint when no one else is present, Andrew makes up the third piece of the triangle from the start. I want to say more about Andrew, an engineer, and James, his idea and money man, but cannot for fear of spoilers. You’ll have to be happy with knowing only they have important parts to play.
The story takes a darker turn toward the end of the first quarter as her fortunes change, but Claire is not one to take things lying down. While the beginning is critical to set everything up and introduce key players, here is where her true story begins, and the book gets its title. However, I checked the blurb and key things are not mentioned there, so I will do the same. I’ll say only her nature meets the upheaval of London head-on. She makes mistakes, but she’s not one to wallow, and by the end, has brought us to a satisfying conclusion of book one’s plot arc while opening a hunger for more, of which there is plenty (I checked).