- Title: Tarnished: The St. Croix Chronicles
- Classification: Adult Fiction
- Genre: Steampunk
- Format: Paperback, 384 pages
- Publisher: Avon; Original edition (April 24, 2012)
- ISBN-10: 0062064614
- ISBN-13: 978-0062064615
"My name is Cherry St. Croix. I am a collector, one of the many who are employed to acquire, kill or investigate for bounties. My rules are simple: I don't collect children, and I don't murder for coin. Truth be told, I've never killed for any reason...Many of the bounties I pulled from the collector's wall came from the Menagerie. They paid well and often."
Finding herself without her collector's fee, she agrees to work for Zylphia and some of the other women of the Menagerie. They want her to find and collect the person responsible for killing 4 of their coworkers. The London times had recently printed stories about a serial killer whom they deemed 'Leather Apron', a killer who reportedly mutilates his victims much like Jack the Ripper. Cherry suspects there might be a connection between serial killer and the Menagerie murders. All her experience hunting bounties, however, could not have prepared her for the possibility that she could become the prey. This may be the first and last job she'll be unable to fulfill.
This was a face paced thriller that kept me on my toes wondering what all was going on. The story has a very dark, gothic edge to it and a feel that anything could happen. Living in a time when woman were treated like property, Cherry is a very independent woman who doesn't wish to exchange her independence for marriage. With only a year to go until she inherits her family's fortune, she tries to patiently bide her time while supplementing her allowance. As we are introduced to Cherry, we find her at a low point in her life. Both of the worlds she's emerged herself in seem to be falling apart. For not only has her supplemental income come into question for the first time, but she's also given the cut direct by Lady Almira Louise Compton, the Marchioness of Northampton, in front of all of London society. A slight not easily lived down.
While the Marhioness may disapprove of Cherry, her son, His Lordship Cornelius Kerrigan Compton, does not. In fact, he appears to be pursuing her. One thing is for sure, Cherry is not lacking for suitors. She's got many things going for her that men are looking for--she's smart, pretty, and an heiress. Among some of her admirers is the dark and mysterious ringmaster of the Menagerie, Micajah. Cherry said he was a 'serpent of an earthly Garden of Eden. He tempted everyone. That was his job.' He is a man she should probably stay away from because his intentions are probably be less than honorable. Being a collector for the Menagerie, however, makes that next to impossible. Cherry finds him attractive, but has no clue of how he feels about her. Truth be told, we don't either, but I have a sneaking suspicion from what we read that he does, so I'm including him on the list.
Teddy is Cherry's best friend whom she has no romantic feelings for, but whose friendship she values very deeply. They've known each other for years and share a love of science. He's the youngest son of a viscount and makes it known he wouldn't be opposed to a match between the two. In regards to their friendship, however, Cherry states, 'I could handle being cut from the Marchioness's social graces. I could take the lack of invites, even the whispers when I moved in public now. But if it had cost me Teddy's company, I would have gone in and challenged the woman myself. Not, of course that ladies dueled.'
The Midnight Menagerie is run by a mysterious organization known as the Karakash Veil. It is rumored to be associated with a criminal organization of Chinese origin. It was the place where those who could afford it went to indulge in all forms of pleasures 'above or below the drift.' It is also one of the primary places that Cherry collects bounties from. Nobody from the Menagerie knows her true identity, and she intends to keep it that way. Only a couple of trusted individuals know of her double life and she had no intention of ever letting her two worlds collide.
Overall, I gave this one 4 out of 5 roses. It contained plenty of murder, mayhem, magic, action, and the ultimate betrayal. Ms. Cooper created a fun alternate reality for London which sported air gondolas as a fashionable mode of transportation. It kept my attention, had a surprise twist I didn't see coming, and made me wonder what Ms. Cooper has in mind for Cherry's next adventure. Whatever that is it's not likely to be boring. On the Lisarenee Romance Rating Scale, this one scores a SHOWER rating - a cold shower is necessary (need I say more?). Some books should come with a warning - make sure your significant other is handy or your shower is in working order. lol I think this was one of the hottest 'love' (and I use the term loosely) scenes I've read where the heroine wasn't fully compromised. This definitely has the potential of becoming one of my favorite series.