Monday, April 04, 2011

Scoundrel by Zoë Archer

London Harcourt is enjoying her first trip to the Greek Isles, finally free of a suffocating girlhood and out of mourning for a marriage pushed on her by her father. She is traveling with her father and her father's assistant, Fraser, who unbeknownst to London, her father intends to marry her to at the end of the trip as a means of controlling her. Because, also unbeknownst to London, her father is part of a group called the Heirs of Albion, a group bent on subjugating the many magical legacies of the world to the control of the British Empire, with the intent of ruling the entire world.

But they aren't alone in the world, because another group, known as the Blades of the Rose, stands in their way, and they are trying to protect those legacies and sources of magic, called "Sources", from the Heirs, keeping them free of British control and in the hands of the native magicians and powers whose heritage they are. The Heirs also have a contemptuous view of women- the only reason why London is accompanying her father on this trip in the first place is that she is the only one who can speak an ancient dialect of Greek that is necessary to find the legacy in the first place. Otherwise, she would never have left her birthplace.

When London meets Bennett Day, the Blades man on the ground in Greece, neither she nor he know each others' identity, they only feel an instant sense of attraction towards each other, an attraction that only deepens when Bennett is forced to abduct her from her hotel room after learning her true identity. But he also finds her woefully ignorant of her father's true purpose in Greece and why she has been taken along- and also why her father is so desperately trying to get her back. And once she learns the truth of what her father plans, she finds it monstrous and decides to join Bennett to help him keep the Greek Source out of the hands of the Heirs.

Unbeknownst to London, Bennett is also hiding a secret from her. He was one of the Blades who caused her brother to be disfigured by scars, which has turned him bitter and reclusive since his trip abroad, which was on work for the Heirs. And Bennett is a man who likes and admires women, especially married women, which has led to more than a few run-ins with enraged husbands. Will London be able to see beyond Bennett's rakehell past to see past his devil may care exterior and unleash the need for a single love within him? Or will she choose to leave the man who accepts and admires her for all of who she is and choose to stay with her family out of a sense of love and duty? Because her father may be in charge of the expedition on behalf of the Heirs of Albion, he's not the greatest threat to the Source, or to London and Bennett...

I loved this book, which hooked me right from the start with the wonderful descriptions that really set this book in time and place. And I also loved the characters of both the hero and heroine, each in their way strong characters who do and defend what they think of as right from a strong personal moral sense. London may start off as naive in the ways of the world, because she is stronger at book learning, but she soon grows into a fighter who is every bit as effective as Bennett, albeit in different ways.

Bennett, too, undergoes personal growth, from being a man who is like a bee in a field of flowers when it comes to women: buzzing from bloom to bloom without staying at any one too long, to a man who craves and sustains a deeper love with a single woman, and no longer finds himself wanting to roam. And he and London are balanced in equally strong supporting characters, including Athena, the latest in a long line of Greek witches, prickly and protective of her heart but who is wooed by Kallas, the captain of a Greek ship who finds himself caught up in the Adventure of searching for the Greek Source. And later, we also meet another of the Blades, Catullus Graves, the reclusive inventor who is the closest thing the Blades have to a leader.

I was caught up as much in the exciting adventure as the romance between Bennett and London. In each other, they find love and support and someone who appreciates all of their strengths, as well as helping each other find new ones. Neither is portrayed as dumb or weak, and their conversations fairly snap with wit and tension. This is a book you will enjoy from the beginning right up until the end, and I can't wait until I read the other three books in the series, though the library only currently has one of the other books: Stranger, catullus's story.

If you are looking for a Victorian Steampunk Supernatural romance that is filled with high adventure, magic, wit and wonderful characters, you can definitely do a lot worse than Scoundrel. I was happy to find the work of a superior writer, and I loved the adventure and ending so much it has impelled me to find the rest of the books in the series. Highly recommended.

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