Wednesday 30 September 2015

#CBR7 Books 101-102: "The Curious Case of the Clockwork Menace" and "Forged by Desire" by Bec McMaster

Page count: 595 pages
Rating: The Curious Case of the Clockwork Menace - 3 stars
Forged by Desire - 4 stars

The Curious Case of the Clockwork Menace is a novella set three years before the events of the rest of the London Steampunk series. In it, Nighthawk partners Garrett Reed and Perry Lowell work together on a case involving a missing theatre actress who may or may not have been abducted. Perry, the only other known female blueblood (vampire) has been in love with her partner for years, without ever really being bothered by jealousy, despite knowing that Garrett is a ladies' man. Now, seeing him flirt openly on the case, she has trouble keeping herself focused, which leads to conflict between the two, and causes complications during the investigation. In the story, Perry is abducted and nearly drowns and determined never to lose track of her again, Garrett gifts her with a dagger containing a tracking device, making her promise to keep it with her always. Said tracking device becomes significant in Forged by Desire.

Nine years ago, the Duke of Moncrieff was exiled to Scotland after it was believed he murdered his thrall, Miss Octavia Morrow, an earl's daughter. Her body was never found. Shortly after Miss Morrow's disappearance and believed death, an emaciated, bedraggled, terrified young woman infected with the craving virus showed up at the Nighthawk headquarters, asking the guild leader, Sir Jasper Lynch for help. Miss Peregrine "Perry" Lowell was taken in by the Nighthawks and trained to control her new animalistic instincts. Trained by Lynch himself, she rose in the ranks to become one of his right hand people. Now, as Lynch has been elevated to a dukedom, he can no longer lead the Nighthawks. His successor is Garrett Reed, Perry's partner for most of her nine years on the force.

Reed is struggling with his new leadership duties. Lynch led the Nighthawks for more than forty years (bluebloods being near immortal and impervious to ageing) and his subordinates didn't realise just how tricky a balancing act his job entailed. Garrett can't ask Lynch for help, as the man blames him for betraying a sworn oath, endangering Lynch's beloved Rosalind, in order to save Lynch's own life. After an attack that nearly ended his life, Garrett's virus levels are extremely strong and he is worried he's going to tip over the edge into the Fade (when bluebloods lose all control and become mindless vampires, attacking everything in sight). He is suffering from horrific nightmares, where he dreams that he attacks Perry, who he's come to realise he considers more than a friend and a work mate. Because he fears he'll hurt her, he's been keeping away from her for a month, and it's making him utterly miserable.

When two young women, clearly of highborn birth, are found murdered in a factory, the cause of death makes Perry flash back to the terrors in her past. She's convinced that she killed the madman who held her captive, infected her with the craving virus and tortured her in the name of medical science, but further investigation into the dead girls all seem to paint a gruesome picture. Moncrieff has been recalled from his exile, and has tasked Garrett with locating the missing Octavia Morrow to prove his innocence. Perry ran once before and created a new identity for herself. She realises that she'll have to flee again, but how can she leave Garrett when he finally seems to return her feelings?

In the world of McMaster's London Steampunk, the sons of the ruling classes, the Echelon, are given the craving virus that makes them faster, stronger and near immortal when they come of age. Once they have the virus, they have to feed on blood, but will be immensely powerful until the point when their virus levels go so high that they enter the Fade, and have to be put down, so as to not become ravening monsters. Any non-nobles who are accidentally infected with the virus can either join the Nighthawks or the Prince Regent's royal guard, or they will be executed. No women are given the virus, as they are believed to be too emotional and weak to handle it. The exception is the Duchess of Casavian, whose father broke the edicts, and Perry Lowell, who was infected in a horrific medical experiment she was lucky to escape.

A female blueblood has to be beyond reproach, so as to not confirm the rumours that women are inferior. Perry lives a strictly controlled existence, trying to appear as masculine as possible to blend in with the other Nighthawks. She has worked hard to overcome the trauma of her past, training with Lynch personally at fencing and fighting. Her sense of smell is unparallelled and she's one of the best trackers the guild has. She's also loved her partner, Garret Reed, for nearly as long as she's known him. Now her past appears to be catching up with her, and she's terrified that he's going to get hurt as a result. She's willing to do anything and risk everything to keep him safe.

Garrett is the son of a prostitute from the East End and worked hard to become Lynch's second in command. No one had expected Lynch's elevation to the Echelon, and the mantle of guild leader sits heavily on his shoulders. His newly discovered attraction to Perry is complicated by his fear that he'll hurt her if his virus levels go too high, and with Lynch giving him the silent treatment, he has no one to talk to about all his fears. Once he realises that Perry isn't indifferent to his advances, he's determined to win her, to spend what little time he has left before he loses control, happy with her. He just needs to figure out what secrets she's keeping from him.

Perry and Garrett's love story is a complicated one, not helped by both being far too honourable and brave for their own good, willing to make audacious sacrifices for the sake of the other. The found family aspect of the Nighthawks really comes into play in the latter half of this book, though, and while Perry is a hell of a heroine, brave, fierce, independent and capable, it's clear that she needs to learn to trust those around her and allow herself to feel happiness. A lot of the overarching story of the series is also coming to a head over the course of this story, and I look forward to seeing how it all ends in the final book.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

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