This book is a mashup of mystery, magic, romance and historical fiction and I wanted to like it just based on that. Despite that, it was rather lacking in romance and the magic was rather minimal.
The heroine, India Steele, is reaching a point of desperation as the book begins. Her father is recently deceased, and the man she was engaged to has snatched her inheritance out from under her. Well, the shop had been left to the fiance, because of course a woman couldn’t be expected to run the business, and as soon as he took possession of it, he dropped India like a hot potato. Now she’s out of cash, and needs a job before her rent is due. At this point, she meets Matthew Glass, a mysterious American stranger who is looking for a particular watchmaker in London. When he discovers she is familiar with all of the watchmakers, he offers her a job to help him track down the man he is looking for. The pay is good, and she has no other offers, so she accepts the position.
In short order, she soon moves into the house where he’s staying with three other people; Cyclops his driver, Duke his sort of butler and Willie his cousin. Willie is female, and she prefers to wear trousers and do as she pleases. India begins to see a few things with Matt that make her wonder what she’s gotten herself into as they scour the city together. He seems to have health issues, tiring easily, but quickly recovering after spending a short time alone in his room. By chance, she sees him holding his watch which seems to make him glow and provide him with a boost of energy. She believes he is some sort of drug addict, and that the drug is being injected somehow by the watch. She doesn’t confront him, but she overhears a lot of conversations which only add to her anxiety. She has convinced herself that he is a criminal on the run from America, and plans to turn him in for the reward. Only she does like him, and there are a few sort of romantic overtures between the two of them.
The story progresses somewhat, and all the watchmakers they visit seem to be wary of India, which she doesn’t understand. The man Matt is looking for doesn’t seem to be anywhere in the city, and he is getting weaker more often. Eventually she wonders if magic is behind some of the things she saw, and if she’s somehow connected to the man Matt is seeking. It’s all rather convoluted, and told in first person from India’s perspective so we don’t find out much about Matt until closer to the end of the book. Since this is a series, nothing gets resolved by the end of this and we’re left frustrated with all the loose threads. I believe are ways for an author to have a satisfying ending to one book while still making the reader want to continue with the next one.
Ms Archer has published quite a few books and series besides this one, but I’m not sure I liked this enough to bother with any others.