It’s not often that I read a book with quite this dynamic. The heroine is the daring, dynamic one in the investigating duo. The hero is the adorably proper and nerdy Archivist who finds his combustible new partner a trial to him. Eliza and Wellington have both become rather set in their roles. When they find themselves partnered and forced to work together it’s a learning experience for them both.
All poor Wellington wants to do is work behind the scenes and rule his little domain in the Archives. He has no interest in doing field work and is appalled to find himself stuck with someone who can’t see herself doing anything else. Unfortunately for him, their boss in the Ministry isn’t pleased with what happened when Eliza rescued Wellington (a scene that starts the book off with a bang!) and punishes them both by sticking them together in the Archives.
The first hundred or so pages are slower paced than the rest of the book. This is necessary to set up the dynamic between the characters—and I wouldn’t have wanted that skipped—but I can’t deny that it dragged a bit. I liked that their tentative steps toward becoming partners weren’t rushed, but I wish there had been a way to tighten this up a bit so it flowed as well as the rest of the book.
I loved the fact that Eliza and Wellington didn’t get along at all in the beginning. They weren’t quite at each other’s throats, but I think they were both fast approaching the point where just the sound of each other breathing would have made them want to strangle each other. These were two completely different people who had to learn to work together. They both had a hard time learning how to value what the other person did. Eliza couldn’t see the draw of being stuck in the Archives with nothing to do but sort the adventures other people had, and Wellington couldn’t see the point of being out there risking his life when there were plenty of other people who wanted to do it.
Wellington and Eliza didn’t just clash heads on their opinion of what they should be doing to serve the Ministry. They were opposites in practically every way. Eliza was bold and rather crass. She delighted in shocking the opposite sex with her behavior and she would rather blow something up than reason her way out of the situation. Wellington was not a lady’s man. He was exceedingly proper and was rather horrified with himself for occasionally being unable to overlook Eliza’s charms. He was calm and thoughtful and refused to carry a gun. They seemed completely unsuited to working together, and no one was more surprised than them when they realized they were the perfect team.
Eliza and Wellington (or Welly as Eliza insists on calling him) are not the only well drawn characters. The villains of the piece are surprisingly interesting as well. Eliza and Wellington both find themselves with the uncomfortable realization that in another situation they might have found themselves good friends with some of the villains.
Eliza finds herself particularly drawn to an assassin. They are both ruthless women with a similar draw to fighting and weapons. Watching them battle at the opera was particularly funny—they both took a moment to comment on each other’s seamstress in the middle of the fight. Although he enjoys the Archives, Wellington only ended up there after his application for the invention section was denied. He has a particular love of mechanics and when he finds a kindred soul in one of the villains it’s hard for him to ignore his fascination with his devices.
This is not a Romance, although there is a very, very light thread of romantic potential between the two leads. Mostly, they just bicker and pick at each other as they investigate. The dynamic between them reminds me strongly of the recent Sherlock Holmes movie. Watson and Holmes had the same bickering camaraderie between them that Eliza and Wellington do. The language is also another delight in the book. There are lots of slang words popping up here and there (especially from Eliza) like dollymop and Fabian. It added a nice flavor to the dialogue.
I felt that we got to know Wellington more than Eliza. He was more open and vulnerable, letting us see his shyness with women, his insecurities, and his inner struggle with the way his father raised him. Eliza was a tougher nut to crack. She’s having a hard time getting over her old partner—and Lord, was I tired of hearing the partner, Harry, brought up all the time—and she misses New Zealand. She dislikes the stereotypes about Colonials and she likes shocking men with her forward behavior. That’s about it for her. We occasionally saw a hint of her turmoil over her past, but it was never fully addressed. I’m hoping we get more insight into her in a future book.
All in all I thought this was a strong first book and that anyone who was a fan of the adventure in the Blades of the Rose series and the dynamic in Sherlock Holmes movie might want to check this series out. I’m very eager to see where this partnership takes Eliza and “Welly” in the future.
“The time has come to divide and conquer, Welly. Get back to the Archives. You do what you are good at. I will do what I am good at.”
He glanced at her, “Blowing things up?”
Eliza gave a nod, shrugging lightly. “I stepped into that one. No, I have other skills, you know,” she returned. It was fun to see him blush. “Interrogation.”
“You mean investigation.”
She was barely able to contain a little snort. Life had sheltered dear Mr. Wellington Books down in the Archives. Unfortunately life had not been so kind to her. “Investigation. Interrogation. What you will. As you’ll be in your element, I’ll go back to Charming Cross and see if I can find out a bit more about the good Doctor Smith.”
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