The St. Croix Chronicles, Book 1
June 26th, 2012 | Avon Books
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.
When I first read the synopsis for Karina Cooper's Tarnished, my first response was "Dark, steampunk fantasy? Yes, please!". I'm a huge fan of dark urban fantasy and an equally large fan of stories with a steampunk element, so I had my expectations set on high and Cooper definitely delivers.
I admittedly have not previously read any of her stories, although I've always heard positive things about them. It's just another case of too many books and too little time. I always know there are talented authors out there and I plan to give them a try, but I don't always make it a priority and usually end up regretting it later. This is one of those occasions.
Cherry St. Croix is a somewhat tortured protagonist with a tragic past. Her deceased father's "madman" reputation stains her image in a society where image means everything, leaving her one mistake away from being cast away to the drift.
Although important pieces of Cherry's past remain unclear, the memories that she can recall are enough to hinder her sleeping and fuel the need for her opium and laudanum addictions.
Aside from Cherry herself, I found the drift to be one of the most appealing aspects of this novel. It's a dark and seedy underworld where the air is so filthy that it's hard to breathe and the fog is so thick that it's difficult to see. The characters who reside there are devious and territorial. It's not an ideal environment for a lady like Cherry St. Croix.
But when she sneaks away at night in her specially armored corset, protective goggles, and detachable respirator, she becomes someone else. A collector, hunting and investigating bounties for money.
The bounties requested by The Midnight Menagerie keep her gainfully employed and this is how we are first introduced to Micajah Hawke. Dangerous, arrogant, and too easy on the eyes.
Initially, it was difficult to get a feel for The Menagerie's dark and tempting ringmaster. But as the story progressed, I found myself looking forward to his reappearances.
It is indirectly through the Menagerie that Cherry first sets out in search of a killer. With few solid leads, he proves to be a difficult man to find. But Cherry is clever and resourceful.
In fact, her brilliant mind is one of her most admirable qualities. While proper women are browsing the gossip columns and wearing the latest in fashion is among their highest priorities, Cherry finds her interests in science and understanding the way things work.
With a protagonist like Cherry, the alternate London setting with its steampunk elements and the seedy criminal underworld lurking beneath it all, Cooper has created an intriguing and memorable debut that I highly recommend.
I will be anxiously awaiting the next installment in the St. Croix Chronicles.