Wednesday 13 October 2010

CBR2 Book 92: "Scoundrel" by Zoë Archer

Publisher: Zebra
Page count: 370 pages
Rating: 4 stars
Date begun: October 11th, 2010
Date finished: October 12th, 2010

Bennett (yes, his mother is a huge fan of Jane Austen - guess what his brother is called?) Day is a cryptographer and solver of codes and riddles for the Blades of the Rose. He merrily travels the globe, working to protect the world's magic sources from abuse and exploitation from the Heirs of Albion and other similar organizations who would use magic for their own gain and to preserve the international dominance of England and the English. They want to use the magical sources around the world to subjugate non-English peoples and countries, while the Blades try to avoid exactly that. He thrives on action, adventure and danger and is indeed the scoundrel of the title, using his charm and dashing good looks to sweep women off their feet wherever he goes. In Greece, he has just escaped an enraged husband, when he meets what may well be his match in a marketplace.

Lady London Edgeworth Harcourt has been a widow for nearly 3 years. She has lived a sheltered life, pampered by her father and neglected by her husband, both Heirs of Albion, who believe that women are ornaments and possessions too delicate to trouble with the realities of the world. An unhappy daughter, then wife and widow, London has by necessity taught herself everything she has yearned for, including swimming and numerous languages, including ancient dialects hardly anyone masters. Once her father realizes that his daughter can decipher the archaic Greek dialect needed to decode a riddle on an old temple, he has no choice but to bring her with him to Greece. He wants to find Greek fire, a weapon that will make England near unstoppable, but does not in any way intend to tell London why the inscription needs decoding.

London sees her journey to Greece as a chance to finally break free and discover the world she has only read about. She is delighted by the country, and drags her maid all around Athens to see as many sights as possible before she must depart to translate the temple inscriptions. She is finally free of her widow's weeds and cannot wait to actually experience things, glad that her father values her linguistic abilities and actually needs her for something. She runs into Bennett in the market place, where he defends her from an angry street vendor who accuses her of sabotaging his business, when she dares to point out that he is selling bogus antiquities and refuses to believe she can actually read the language on the pottery shards. There is an instant attraction between the two, which is soon complicated when Bennett realizes that she is not only a linguistic expert, but the daughter of one of his worst enemies, and might help the Heirs find the source he is in Greece to protect.

Unsure of whether London is an evil temptress working with her father, or entirely innocent and unaware of the dealings of the Heirs, Bennett abducts her from her father's steamship and he and his friends quickly realize that she knows nothing of the Heirs of Albion or their plans. Bennett reveals the truth about magic, sources, the Blades and the Heirs, but London is reluctant to believe that her father, late husband and brother could be so evil and ruthless, and not sure she can trust the charming stranger she only just met. When she is recaptured by her father and confronts him, he not only confirms what Bennett told her, but reveals that Mr Day is the man who killed her husband. She also realizes that far from admiring and respecting her linguistic abilities, her father only wants her so he can locate another magic source, then he plans to marry her off to one of his toadying Heir lackeys and she will be forced back into her stifling and restrictive existence as trophy wife once more.

Very conflicted and confused, London has to choose if she is to help her father, who wants to use magic to subjugate and oppress people for the glory of England, or trust Bennett, the man who killed her husband, who gave her a false name when they first met, and who abducted her without any difficulty. Soon she finds herself on the run from her father's steamship, on the trail of a magical weapon with a breathtakingly attractive and clearly dangerous man. There is adventure, danger and several linguistic challenges in her future, and her life will never be the same again.

In some ways, I liked Scoundrel more than Warrior, in others, I did not. London is a a lovely woman, thirsting for adventure and very open to new experiences. Possibly too open, and sometimes even a bit rash. She is very quick to trust Bennett, even though he kidnaps her, has lied to her and she knows he hates her father, and made her a widow. She feels extremely attracted to him, and he clearly returns the feelings, and pretty much every lustful thought the couple feel when observing each other is described by the author. It is clear that London is very intelligent, she taught herself a buttload of languages, both modern and ancient, but she still seems almost stupidly trusting when she goes off with Bennett and his allies. I would have liked more exploration of London's (and Bennett's, for that matter) non-lustful thoughts.

Bennett is quite happy being a scoundrel, sleeping his way around the world while having adventures and fighting bad guys. He is impressed by London's linguistic abilities, and deeply impressed with her lust for adventure. Of course, it doesn't hurt that she is wicked beautiful. He doesn't want to settle down, and has never met a woman he was willing to give up his independence and bachelorhood for. At first, he is convinced that his passion for London will fade in time, just as with any other woman he's ever encountered. Unsurprisingly, the more time he spends with her, the more smitten he is.

There is a lot of action and adventure in this book, just as in Warrior. More of Catullus Graves' marvellous inventions are unveiled, we find out a bit more about the inner workings of the Blades, and while there may have been a bit more sex and lustfulness than I like on occasion, the book is still loads of fun, with some great supporting characters, and I'm very much looking forward to the next one, out in November.

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