I enjoyed the last book in this series with its Great Race backdrop and each one has been different so I was eager to see what type of Steampunk backdrop this one would have. It was submersibles and espionage- so cool! I loved the balanced blend of romance, intrigue and steampunk.
The book was loosely tied to the books that came before. It can easily be read as a standalone though the mention of people and a few incidents that came from the previous book do get a little page time so the ideal is to read it in order.
The story opens with Barnabas Smith-Grenville recovered from his illness and back on the hunt to find his younger prodigal brother, Phineas. The last sight of his brother was that he was working for an Opium Lord and an addict, but Barnabas still has hope of finding Phineas so he takes the offer to join The Agency and act as a spy for Phineas’ last employer. Much to Barnabas’ surprise, Murcheson, his employer, gives him the charge of watching over his daughter making Barnabas wonder if he is being underestimated with such a piddling task.
Frederique Murcheson has her foot in both the world of high society and that of a makesmith tinker. She loves working with engines and machinery, but wishes she didn’t have to disguise herself as a man to do it. Her father is caught up in his inventions, but always saddles her with a series of ‘babysitters’. The latest is something out of the usual in that Lord Smith-Grenville makes a deplorable spy, but a good companion in her ventures to find out what secret thing her father is up to that is making all the fish and some of the fishermen disappear.
Barnabas slowly starts to appreciate his assignment to watch Freddie as his respect grows for her sense and skills. He isn’t used to her dangerous adventures, but he’s game to try to keep up with her. They discover a secret military base, experimental submersibles, and evidence of smuggler activity. Freddie is determined to prove her usefulness and cunning to her father so that she can persuade him to take her seriously so she talks Barnabas into helping her with her own secret mission. In the meantime, the attraction between Barnabas and Freddie grows stronger and stronger making them worry what will happen when their mission is over and Barnabas goes back to run the family estate and Freddie continues her career as a makesmith.
The plotting kept my attention from cover to cover. I really enjoyed both the romance and the adventure sides of the plot. The steampunk was not as strong an element, but it wasn’t minimal either. I loved how this one took things under the sea and featured different gadgetry.
The romance was slow developing and it was fun. These two are an unusual pair. The story is told from both main characters’ perspectives. Freddie is the more feisty, intrepid of the two while Barnabas is a cautious beta-style hero. He is just your average guy that is comfortable being the support. I liked seeing Freddie appreciate Barnabas’ understated qualities like his loyalty and his lack of intimidation in having Freddie as the lead. Barnabas is like a calm anchor to keep Freddie grounded. Again, when it comes to this series, I’m going to mention how refreshing it was the way that the author portrayed a virgin as a true inexperienced virgin that struggled with her first encounters with kissing and the other physical acts before getting up to speed. My only real niggle was that things were left open at the end because I’m one that prefers relationship stuff to be tidily tied up.
The intrigue and action were a strong side. I loved the element of tension as Freddie and Barnabas snuck around snooping to find out what was going on. The only thing that would have kept the tension up even better would have been to keep the villain’s identity remain in the shadows instead of knowing who it was from the beginning since he got part of the narrative. Truthfully, I felt a bit sympathetic to him as a result of being privy to his thoughts. The last few big scenes were exciting and poignant.
I’m not sure if things were left open-ended with Phineas’ story on purpose, but I’m hoping he gets his own story now. He was an interesting character and nearly stole the show when he appeared in the story.
So to wrap it up, this was delightful segment of the series and I actually enjoyed this one the best of the books so far. Those who enjoy steampunk romance that’s gentle on the steampunk and a little spicy on the romance should give this one a try.
My thanks to Penguin Group for the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.