Cherry continues her difficult balancing act between the aristocracy and the lower levels of society in this second installment of the St. Croix Chronicles. After the traumatic events of the last book, she’s determined to find out more about her family and where she actually comes from. At the same time, she is becoming aware how precarious her life is, and worse, how unsteady her behavior makes the lives of those around her. Soon Cherry is forced to make a choice, between keeping the life she’s used to and keeping those she loves safe, if that’s even a possibility …
I liked the first book in this series, Tarnished, but Gilded was magnitudes more involving. As happens quite often in a series like this, the part of the first book that’s devoted to setup can be devoted to plot in the second, and Cooper delivers on the promise of the first one in spades. I actually read them very close together, despite the fact that my reviews are scattered so far apart, and I was really rewarded by doing that. Unfortunately the result means I can’t separate them in my mind as much as I should be able to, except for the end.
This is in part because this book directly follows on from the last one. It has a little bit of a plot arc of its own, centered around a riddle that is posed to Cherry and which she can’t help but try and solve, but not as much as I was expecting. Since this plot arc follows on so well, though, I absolutely didn’t mind; I was quite happy to continue the story where it left off, because it left off in quite an uncertain place, with plenty of plot threads dangling.
As with the last book, what I really like about this world is the difference between literally the upper class in the upper part of London and the lower class down below. It’s impossible to walk from one to the other, you need transportation; it’s an actual separation between the classes. Cherry is dauntingly flitting between these two worlds, which effectively demonstrates to us that (of course) people are people and there are wonderful and terrible ones in both places, but breaking the barrier is the real challenge.
The love stories also progress, and I found my jaw on the floor at the ending – it was the kind of ending I’d expect to find later in a series, not in the second book. I immediately wanted to find out what happens next, and now I’m only sorry that there isn’t a publication date yet for it.
If you like the sound of a steampunk, alternate London urban fantasy, these two books are definitely worth picking up. Highly recommended.
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