I am all caught up on the Sebastian St. Cyr series, and I am so disappointed now! All the novels in the series are good with so many densely plotted mysteries, interesting recurring characters and a compelling plot line that runs through the series. Still, I admit to starting to feel less drawn into the novels at some point in the middle, only for the last three to completely suck me back into the series. And now come the minor spoilers for previous novels in the series, so go start with What Angels Fear if you haven’t read any of them yet.
I think one thing that helped the series regain my full attention was that in the 11th novel, Harris changes the scenery temporarily, which allowed for a nice change of pace. The 12th novel involved a very interesting case (while I feel odd reading true crime, I find fictional serial killer cases interesting), and Harris introduced certain family elements that will keep me interested going forward. These include Sebastian’s niece Stephanie’s marriage to a psychopath, Hero’s mysterious and shady cousin on her mother’s side, and finally, Sebastian’s overtures to reconcile with Hendon (finally!!!). As a result, I am once again super invested beyond finding out the killer of the case and want to know how these other life developments might shake out going forward.
I also think Hero’s research articles have been a great way to introduce certain aspects of how the poor lived in 19th century England since most historical novels focus on how the other half lives (especially romance novels). While the people she interviews usually end up helping with the case in some shape and having a link to the overall plot, it’s still an educational and informative way to add the stories of the poor. I still think about the child street sweepers from a few novels ago – Harris adds just enough detail to make even these minor characters feel so real and evoke emotions. In the previous novel, Hero spoke to children left behind when their mothers were transported to Australia for such simple crimes as theft. Her current article involves interviewing the impoverished wives left behind when their husbands are impressed into the Navy, taking away the breadwinner of the family. The government solutions to theft and lack of volunteers for the Navy simply cause more suffering for the poor.
Hero and Alexi are returning home from one such interview on a cold winter night when Hero practically trips over a dead woman. If any other two women had stumbled on Jane Ambrose, her death would have easily been written off as a slip and fall on the ice, with an unfortunate and fatal hit to the head. Unfortunately for whoever is behind this, Alexi is a trained medical professional and recognizes the body was moved due to the lack of blood on the scene, and Hero and her husband Sebastian have been engaged in several murder investigations.
In life, Jane Ambrose was a piano teacher, and her clients included Princess Charlotte, heir to the throne, and Anna Rothschild, daughter of the famous and powerful financier. Though Jane and her twin brother James performed together growing up, as Jane got older, she had to give up her public playing due to the constraints on her gender, despite the fact that many suggest that she was the more talented of the siblings. The plot actually felt very much like it was addressing the musical version of the question, “what if Shakespeare had a sister?” Unable to perform publically like her brother or even compose grand pieces (because no orchestras would perform them), Jane is reduced to piano teacher and can write only smaller pieces, befitting of her gender. Meanwhile, her personal life does not make up for the loss in professional aspirations: her two children have recently died, all but one of her siblings and parents are dead, and her husband is a scumbag. Rumors point to a mistress, and several people mention the frequent bruises Jane suffered.
Princess Charlotte is another woman trapped. Her mother, Princess Caroline, was never the bride the Prince Regent wanted and he has used everything in his power to make her miserable. A victim in their battle, Princess Charlotte is locked away from society, surrounded by a household filled with people serving other masters and spying on her. Anyone who gets too close and threatens to become a confidante could easily find themselves dismissed by the Prince Regent. Not only does he use Charlotte as a weapon, but he is also jealous of her, and the love the people have for her, a love he long ago lost through his spending, lack of concern for the people and mistreatment of his wife and daughter.
In her position as a piano teacher for rich and powerful families, it is not at all unlikely that Jane accidentally overheard something dangerous to know. The Prince Regent wants his daughter to marry the Prince of Orange, and it would be all too easy to disrupt a betrothal he wants. Since Jane actually cared about Charlotte, would she have done something to interfere? Of course, the obvious answer could also be a jealous or angry husband who already had a tendencies to use his fists. Too many options abound, but the further Sebastian goes into the investigation, the more he appreciates the constraints society has placed on women, and how little outlet talented women have.
It’s definitely a strong novel in the series, and though it is not the end, it certainly a good “last one complete” since it leaves me strongly wanting more and anticipating the release of the next novel. For some reason, I didn’t have that much interest in the post Tudor monarchs, and the actions of Prinny certainly don’t make me think that the later monarchs contributed much value to the running of the country.