Jean, 39, lover of sci-fi, horror and fantasy, reader of comic books, conqueror of genre fiction.
While the first book feels exactly like what it is, a set-up, this book expands on the characters introduced and lets them fully stretch their legs. The mystery itself still seems rather arbitrary--I knew, pretty much from the beginning, who the spy was, though, exactly like the first book, very few clues are actually given as to motivation until the reveal, something that might drive the die-hard mystery lovers a little crazy--but where the series' strength lies is in the history and the characters create to people it.
The first book was recommended to me by a friend because of my interest in Georgian England, and specifically the Age of Sail, so the history was of particular interest to me, involving the wars England was engaged in and their remarkable navy. Harriet's husband, a naval captain, is more tied into the story, and different threads of London and the time period are all pulled together. As a matter of fact, I think the thing I love the most about Robertson's plotting is the way she manages to tie many things together, many different stories and personal character histories, including things that are, at the time, on the periphery, such as Jocasta being involved in Crowther's family history.
I was impressed at first with the way in which the author tackled, head-on, the mores of the day, and how Harriet would be viewed, how she would be treated, involved as she is in not just an activity thought socially unacceptable for women, but generally believed to be extremely distasteful. It felt very blunt and very real--at first. Unfortunately, it turned into my main complaint, in that it seemed "solved" rather easily, and turned ugly when, while Harriet's sister nags at her to heed the way she is viewed for her own sake, as well as her daughter's and her sister's, the men fall over themselves to reassure her that it's really wonderful--the scene with Clode seemed particularly ugly to me, as he basically calls Rachel an hysteric and once more sings Harriet's praises. (Don't marry him, Rachel! You don't need any man who's not going to take your part, if he involves himself at all, in an argument with your sister.) This is a pattern, as it turns out, with the novels, with men drooling over Harriet, while the women tut disapprovingly and try to cut her. And I did so love that Rachel was remarkable in her own right in the first book, and close with Harry. It makes me sad to see the books make her into something of a stereotype, and particularly unattractive, the way Harriet begins to treat her and think of her sister.
The prose is economic but beautifully done, and the history is extremely well-handled, even if I feel sometimes like I'm being given too much information (research can be a powerful thing, digging up all those wonderful facts, and for the most part, Robertson seems to instinctively know what to include and when to cut it off, but, as many a good author, she sometimes lets things slip through.)
Others have said that the novel was hard to get into, and I agree completely. The first 50-70 pages were a sort of mental torture, mostly because it took so long to get to the main characters. The prologue was confusing, the skip from Westerman's ship to his injury left me scratching my head, and literally going back to read if I'd missed something and wondering if he was supposed to have been hit on the head while interrogating the spy--and then confused as to why no one would say this. It's an abrupt change, and the reveal of what happened to Westerman isn't so shocking that they couldn't have included a hint of it early on to make that part of the book flow more smoothly.
All in all, a fantastic read. I couldn't put it down, and finished it much more quickly than I had anticipated.