Book form: e-publication, mobi format
Publisher: Berkley Trade; Original edition (January 4, 2011)
Target audience: adults
Genre: historical fiction, adventure
Synopsis (almost from Goodreads):
Sir Archibald Latham of the War Office dies from a heart attack while visiting a fashionable brothel called Lotus House, owned and run by Madam India Black. His death unexpectedly thrust that lady of disrepute into a deadly game between Russian and British agents who are seeking the military secrets Latham carried in his leather briefcase. Unfortunately the briefcase disappears mysteriously right after his death along with one of Madam Black’s employees. Blackmailed into recovering the missing documents by a British spy known as French, India finds herself dodging Russian agents-and the attraction she starts to feel for the handsome conspirator.
What I liked:
The main character of the story is Miss India Black, an intelligent whore with lots of dry humor and a fairly cynical view on life. I loved her narrative voice (as the book is told from her perspective) because it was brutally honest, outspoken and wickedly entertaining. However, the fact that India, once a working girl, now the owner of a brothel, is in peace with her inner self, accepting her fate without any remorse or second thoughts, I liked the best. She makes absolutely no excuses and enjoys her life as it is. She says:
Still, I wouldn’t trade Lotus House for the world. There may be easier ways of earning a sou: I could allow some pedigreed ass to keep me in French perfume and silk gowns, tucked away in a cozy pied-à-terre in St. John’s Wood, and driving a four-in-hand along Rotten Row. But I like my freedom.
It was refreshing.
What’s more, there’s an individual called Vincent – a young street urchin who is cleverer and braver than any spy although his body odour might make you cringe and his appearance and lifestyle are simply outrageous. He is utterly charming in character though – a great addition to our madam and the whole novel.
The book was a breeze to read and I enjoyed the narration pace – quick and vivacious, like the heroine. The mystery was a bit simplistic but nicely executed. Do not expect a lot of romance here, contrary to that last line of the Goodreads synopsis. India is not a person to fall in love – she knows men too well and has no illusions left about them. I think the lack of romance is actually an advantage which made her character only more believable.
Finally the cover is simply lovely, especially the dress and the fan.
What I didn’t like:
In short the plot. Unfortunately the more I read the more I had to suspend my disbelief. Perhaps I was overthinking again…anyway here are the results.
Firstly India leaves Lotus House, her home and the only source of her income, dangerously unattended for almost a week. Very uncharacteristic for such a level-headed businesswoman who, early on in the book, emphasizes how important it is for her to be present there all the time, watch over her girls, her clients and all the takings.
It also seemed very unlikely that a luxurious whore house can be run without any muscle. Although allegedly India’s brothel caters to a ‘better’ segment of society (minor nobility, government officials, military officers, etc) she still serves alcohol there and a drunk gentleman is first a drunk and gentleman later (if at all); what’s more, imagine what would happen if somebody (or even a group of somebodies) from lower classes tried to barge in and have some ‘fun’... In short the book did lack a secondary character who, temporarily at least, would be able to perform the necessary duty of protection and client supervision.
Another scene: India and French, the English agent she has to cooperate with, fall down uncontrollably from a height of over 6 meters; they land on a frozen ground but neither of them is hurt. What’s more, they start bickering almost immediately. Are their bodies made of steel?
Also the fact that extremely cruel Russians proved not so cruel after all and let poor Vincent live I found rather suspicious – I know the boy was necessary to forward the plot and I did appreciate that the blighter survived but it would be far more logical to kill him off…
Last but not least – Mr. French was not a great addition here, character-wise. I found him a bit bland and not especially intelligent when you compare him to India and young Vincent…perhaps he will improve later.
It was a nice book but if you’re expecting a very correct historical fiction novel from Victorian times do not pick this up. You will be disappointed and even annoyed. The language in particular is not from that period and might drive anal purists crazy.
Would I read the next book in the series? Yes, I would. As it was just a debut novel I do hope the author will construct a more intriguing and solid plot which can match the wit, power and fun of India’s character.