The wait was incredibly worth it on this one. We waited years, and this is by far the best full novel in this series (the novella The Pursuit Of . . . is wonderful, too).
First of all, according to the author’s notes of this book, Courtney Milan is literally the reason there is a dinosaur emoji. Second of all, she actually created the Chinese telegraphic code in the book (the theory of it, anyway). Like, whAt? (Those two things are related by the way. The dinosaur emoji helped her crack the Chinese telegraphic code. Again, wHaT.) Neither of those things is relevant to enjoying the book, but I had to mention them anyway.
Of actual relevance is the plot, which features Captain Grayson Hunter in his quest to lay telegraphic line across the world seeking out “The Silver Fox”, who is the only person he’s heard of who might be able to help him create a workable Chinese telegraphic code. When Hunter arrives in Fuzhou, he finds that the Silver Fox is a woman, a widow named Mrs. Amelia Smith, and her brother thinks she is being “criminally underutilized.” Amelia Smith is also Chinese, but was adopted by Mrs. Acheson when she was very young, along with her older brother (who is white) Leland. It quickly becomes apparent that not only is she underutilized, she is treated terribly by her mother, who professes to love her, but belittles her Chinese heritage and displays some pretty racist tendencies. Amelia, who doesn’t remember her life before Mrs. Acheson was her mother, has absorbed some pretty toxic ideas. On top of that, she’s a genius, and I would say neuroatypical. Grayson badly wants her to come work for him, but it takes some convincing. Amelia isn’t aware that she is worth very much at all.
What sets this one apart for me is that first of all, it’s set almost entirely in a historically accurate China that I’ve not really seen portrayed in romance novels before. It also takes place over a much longer period of time than your average romance. Years. I appreciated this so much. Not only does it give our characters more time to actually get to know one another, it’s just more realistic. Feelings grow over years, people grow and change over years. In practical terms, it takes time for Amelia to develop the code and to relearn how to experience the world when not being oppressed by her mother.
This ties in to the saga of the Worth family in a fun way. Young Benedict Worth is employed by Grayson, and he’s told his family he’s out in the world to search his missing sister, Theresa, but really he has absolutely no intention of doing so, or ever returning to England. Benedict spends most of the novel liaising for Amelia and pretending to search for Theresa. I’m very excited to see more of the two of them in the next book, and interested to find out what his book will eventually be about.