Her Ladyship’s Curse by Lynn Viehl
Publisher: Pocket Star
Date: August 12th, 2013
Genre: Steampunk Romance / Alternate History
Series: Disenchanted & Co.
Sequel: His Lordship Possessed
My rating: I’d go there again!
e-ARC provided by NetGalley
Her Ladyship’s Curse begins the story of Charmian (Kit), a young woman living in an alternate United States that lost the Revolutionary War to Great Britain. Magic, ghosts, curses, and steampunk technology coexist … except Kit doesn’t believe in magic. She has spent the last few years in the city of Rumsen working as a private investigator, resolving clients’ problems by finding mundane motives and causes of curses, disappearing and reappearing boxes, and other magical occurrences. This time, Lady Diana Walsh has asked her to dispell a curse that carves hateful words into the lady’s flesh while she sleeps. In the course of the investigation, she runs into her longtime nemesis, a deathmage named Lucien Dredmore, who is determined to have Kit. She receives help from an old family friend, now the Chief Detective Inspector of the police, Thomas Doyle.
In a world where wives are considered their husbands’ chattel, and women have no rights outside of working for a living, Kit skirts the attempts of men to control, guide, and own her, fiercely holding to her own independence while solving the mystery of the curse and unraveling a political and magical conspiracy that lies at the heart of the mystery. Fearless, determined, and witty, she is a strong and delightful heroine.
The world-building was a bit fragmented and confusing, although Viehl did avoid info-dumping. A close reading is essential for understanding Kit’s world. I remain confused about a few historical and geographical points, and a map of the alternate world would have been appreciated. Why are the Hungarians the Enemy? That is never explained in this first part, yet it seems to play such a key role in Kit’s personal history. Kit’s discovery of her own past leads in one direction at first, but abruptly changes, without any real explanation. This was the main problem I had with this almost novella-length first installment. There was a lot to explain in terms of world-building and context, and yet the novel was so full of action and drama (not a complaint!) that not enough lines were devoted to clearing up some of the mystery of Toriana and the world. On the other hand, it is very easy to grasp the history and organization of Rumsen, where the action takes place.
The romance is predictable, but still enjoyable – Viehl is a master at writing the interactions and relationships that develop between an antagonistic heroine and an enigmatic “enemy.” In this book, Kit believes Dredmore is a charlatan like all other mages, and that he is essentially evil. She fights his interest in her (and hers in him) because she believes him to be interested only in possessing her. And he is, but things are not as simple as that. At one point, when both Dredmore and Kit dine with the Walshes, different foods are served according to the gender of the diners. Kit silently objects, and ultimately Dredmore slips her some of his food and exchanges it for some of hers. At the end of the novel, these two still have issues to resolve, but the reader is left with the hope that they will (and with the anticipation of future battles of wills).
The ending is frustrating, because I can’t immediately pick up the second volume – it might as well be under the definition of “cliffhanger” in the dictionary. Clearly the “Part 1” in the title is to be taken literally. If you don’t like waiting for the sequel, I would encourage you to wait to read this until you can read all three parts together.
Viehl is one of my favorite science fiction authors, and I was delighted with this foray into the arena of steampunk and alternate history. I feel it would have come together better and been more cohesive if it had been a full-length novel, instead of one part of a divided novel. Action-packed, witty, with great main and supporting characters and an intriguing alternate world, it will be a great addition to fantasy, steampunk, alternate history, and paranormal romance collections. I cannot wait to read the next installment.
Also by Lynn Viehl: