Saturday, April 09, 2011

Stranger by Zoë Archer

Catullus Graves is a member of the Blades of the Rose, and also a chemist whose creations help the Blades in protecting the magical Sources of the world from the members of the Heirs of Albion, a group of British Aristocrats who believe that all the Sources should be in the hands of the British, to better help them rule the world. The Blades oppose the Heirs, but the Heirs have already gotten control of some sources that allow them to use fairly powerful magic.

Gemma Murphy knows none of this, but when she hears two Blades talking about magic in Canada, she decides to follow them back to England to find out what they are talking about. She is used to sniffing out stories in her job as an investigative reporter. But unbeknownst to most people, she has a magic talent of her own- she can open locks just by concentrating on it, and she uses her talent to get into places that she shouldn't be in and find evidence that she shouldn't have access to.

When she uses her family talent to sneak into a meeting of Catullus and some of the other Blades, she is discovered by Catullus afterwards, and while he is intrigued by both her and her ability to get into where she isn't allowed, he also finds himself attracted to her- even if he is convinced that he will never find a lover or a wife. Catullus is used to being rejected and alone as a black man in the almost completely white populace of England.

Gemma is interested in Catullus as well, but she always wants to find out about the Source that the Heirs have their eyes on, one that could enable them to win every future conflict and bring about the end they desire- a magic source of great power known as The Primal Source, constructed by none other than Merlin and invested with enough magical might to make other Sources seem like baby toys. But can Catullus, and Gemma, who is determined to stay with Catullus and write the story of the Blades, exposing them to the world, find the Primal Source and keep it safe from the Heirs? And is Gemma's power merely to open locks, or does it have a deeper application that might enable her to open other dimensions to Catullus? And can Catullus overcome the mental attitude that his past experience with prejudice have given him and accept the love of Gemma, and the possibility that she can see beyond his color and love him enough to stay with him forever? Or will all their problems seem small when the Heirs finally take over for good?

This is the final book in the Blades of the Rose series, and we finally meet Catullus, the genius inventor who is responsible for the creation of many devices in the past books that have gotten the Blades who bore them out of some trouble. But while his genius for inventing is unparalleled, he is hesitant in matters of the heart, since, because he is black, there is considerable prejudice towards him from other English people (not the Blades, of course, but ordinary people), and he is all too aware of the difficulties of any kind of romance with a white woman.

For her own part, Gemma knows that her own family will have a problem with her relationship with Catullus, but she still can't keep herself from wanting him, or being attracted to him. By the end, both have overcome their own mental difficulties, and decide to try and change people's minds, even if it is only one person at a time. But watching them come together was both wonderful and hot- my only problem was with the cover. The impression I got from the story was that Catullus was a really dark Negro man- darker, in any case, than the cover artist made him look, while the cover art makes him look like a very lightskinned guy- more on the order of quadroon/octoroon (to use the language of that time), and not very dark at all. Which would still have been equally as unacceptable to some people, but it was certainly jarring.

Other than that, I loved this book immensely. I liked that Catullus and Gemma not only had an external threat to overcome, but also a psychological one that held them back from engaging in a physical relationship with each other. Plus, it was Catullus who was the less willing one to engage in physical fighting, since he was more of a mentally engaged guy, and rather fastidious as well, while Gemma was based more on Nellie Bly and found it somewhat easier to engage in fisticuffs- a reversal of the usual male/Female traits I found delicious.

I definitely enjoyed the story, and the characters and well, just about everything about this book, and I would recommend this book to those who enjoy heroics and fights that aren't between the main characters, but the main characters and external forces.I am still looking for the other books in the series, but I highly recommend this book and this series, so far as I have read them. I would love to see what else Zoë Archer comes up with for her next series!

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