Since the author announces her first chapter as taking place on Sunday, June 23rd, and later reveals it's a quarter century after Queen Victoria's ascension to the throne, then this novel has to be set in 1860, not 1861 as the idiot blurb in Goodreads states. But that's Amazon-owned Goodreads for you.
Cara Devon is a Victorian woman supposedly living in a steampunk world, but the author seems not to understand steampunk, and features very little of that genre. The story seems to have more in common with Fifty Shades of Grey than ever it does with streampunk, but given that I haven't read (and have no intention of reading) that latter novel, I'd have to say it's a grey area...!
Anyway, that's what I gathered from it from my reading of just under a fifth of it before I felt unable to stomach any more. It's set in an alternate reality which not only bears little resemblance to steam-punk, but also bears little resemblance to Victorian London! There were too many anachronisms and they began to grate in short order.
The character's name alone seems suspect. She is the daughter of Lord Devon, but historically, someone elevated to the peerage didn't simply add Duke or Earl or Lord to his last name. He took the name of the locale over which he was actually the lord (at least historically), so Lord Devon might have been named so because he has or had land holdings in the county of Devonshire. That doesn't necessarily follow especially not these days, and doesn't mean he necessarily lived in Devon either.
The current Earl of Devon isn't named Devon, but Courtenay. In 1860, Viscount Palmerston was 'prime minister', but his name was Temple, not Palmerston. With regard to the government he oversaw, the Lord Chancellor was Lord Campbell and that was his last name as it happens, but the president of the council was Lord Granville, whose actual name was Leveson-Gower. The Duke of Argyle was also John Campbell - a different John Campbell! The Duke of Newcastle was named Pelham-Clinton. The Duke of Somerset was named Seymour, and Lord Elgin was James Bruce. So yeah, it's possible a Lord would have his last named in his title, but it wasn't common then, not like it is now because of the life peerages that have been added.
And that's just the last name. Cara was not a common name. An author can choose whatever name they want of course, but to me names mean something, and Cara wasn't remotely on the radar of names in and around the 1840s which was, I assume, roughly when Cara would have been born. Popular names tended to be queen's names such as Mary, Ann, Elizabeth and so on. Cara wasn't even in the top 100 popular names for a kid.
Maybe the parents wanted to give her an unpopular name, but Cara means beloved. That hardly sounds like a name an abusive father would give a girl he detested - and remember it was the men who ran everything and owned everything back then - often not for better but for worse, so this name felt like something the author had coined because she felt it sounded cool rather than a name which had any real thought given to it or which fitted the milieu in which this character was so precipitously deposited.
Anyway, this author has her hero Cara Devon carrying a pair of Smith & Wesson revolvers in 1860 in England. Given that the company wasn't even founded until 1852 in the USA and that it manufactured (when that word literally meant 'by hand') rifles to begin with, it's unlikely she would have a pair of these revolvers (and ammunition to keep them filled) in England so soon afterwards!
Given that this is an English hero, why not give her a Beaumont-Adams revolver, which has the two names she could have used in place of Smith and Wesson in her slightly tired joke. This was a sidearm in use in the British army from 1856 onward. It took me five minutes to 'research' this. Anita Exley isn't an American author as far as I know. She's evidently from New Zealand, so her choice of weapon is a mystery and her evident laziness was a little off-putting.
There are a lot of modern phrases used in this book which detracted from the Victorian setting, and it wasn't just phrases. There were anachronous behaviors, too. In terms of phrases, for example, I read at one point, "She knew leaving the house unattended would be an invite to every questionable person in London" whereas a Victorian would have used 'invitation', not a shortened version which would have been considered unconscionable slang back then, as would ' Union Jack flag' - it was only a 'jack' when used on a ship, otherwise it was just the Union Flag and in Victorian times probably just the British flag. This flag - in one form or another - dates back to James's accession to the throne after Elizabeth died without (recognized!) issue.
Another instance was in one of Cara's thoughts that are shared with us about a visitor to her house: "Cute, for a copper. Shame he's wearing the coat. I can't check out the rear view." which is hardly what a Victorian woman of breeding would think. And even if she had thought it she would not use the modernism 'check out' which is also an Americanism and would not have been in use in London back then. Nor would she have used a phrase like, "the sooner I can get the hell out of London." This was all in the first few pages. "I guess they are a necessary evil" was another phrase that wouldn't have been uttered. Substitute 'suppose' or 'imagine' for 'guess' and you're in business. This is not rocket science.
In a scene in a lawyer's office I read: "Tea, please, Miss Wilson." He directed his comment to the efficient secretary.... No - they would never have had a female secretary back then. Such a thing was very rare and the solicitor's office did not seem very much inclined to support women's emancipation. At one point I read, "The flow of cards through her mail slot was unrelenting" but it was highly unlikely that a door would have had a mail slot in the 1860s, nor would there have been a "pissing contest" back then. These anachronisms began to jar in short order.
Now you can argue that Cara is not your usual gentile Victorian, but the author tells us Cara was abused. It turns out she was beaten by her brutal father, and also was used as payment for a debt by being loaned out as a whore to the creditor for a week during which she was frequently raped. After that kind of treatment at men's hands, I have serious doubts that she would be 'checking out' men's asses. It seemed more likely she would detest and despise them thoroughly, especially in light of her nervous and retiring behavior exhibited later in the story. This felt like a betrayal of what she had been through and was not appreciated, especially in light of what followed.
At one point the author has her hero going out into the street wearing jodhpurs, which is bad enough, and a corset over her outfit. Bullshit. Women didn't even wear jodhpurs for riding back then, and no one wore a corset over their clothes. This was really a poor choice. Methinks the author was far too influenced by what modern steam-punkers seem to favor and paid no attention at all to convention and culture as it was actually in Victorian times. Again, I know this is an alternate reality, but why even claim it's set in Victorian times if you're going to completely flout all conventions?
The emphasis on youth and beauty in this is disgusting, especially from a female author. I thought that perhaps we were starting to get beyond that, but YA writers don't seem to get it for some reason. Thus we have a victim of a murder mentioned early in the story and the only quality she seems to have had is beauty (and youth). Or was it youth (and beauty)? I read, "The death of a young and beautiful aristocrat." This woman is described in a newspaper headline as a "beautiful debutante" No! Victorian newspapers did not go in for that sort of thing! Later I read that someone couldn't imagine anyone wanting to harm her because she was "so beautiful." "Her face was heart-shaped and would have been beautiful [when she was alive]." later, "...on a beautiful young woman?"
No, no, no! Why is it that YA authors are so insistent upon betraying their gender by declaring so categorically that if you're not beautiful you have nothing to recommend you? Had this murder victim been rather plain would that have made her death far less tragic? It would seem so according to this author, who evidently thinks that all a woman has to offer is the shallow depth of her skin.
If the whole point of the story hinged on a woman's looks - like she was a model or an actor or something, then I can see some attention being paid to superficiality, but when her looks are irrelevant, could the author find nothing else to day about a woman? Perhaps that she was loved? Talented? Had her whole life ahead of her? That she did charity work? That she was brilliant? That she was a wonderful friend? That she was an only child? Anything? Bueller? I detest authors who demean and cheapen women like this.
The worst sin is that this author seems to be setting up the bad boy to win Cara's cold and isolated heart. As I said, Cara was raped repeatedly as a child, yet she accepts the villain's offer to go to his home - unescorted - and have dinner with him. When she gets there, the villain insists she take a bath and put on a dress he has for her and she meekly acquiesces. This supposedly feisty hero of the novel essentially lays down and exposes her belly and throat to the alpha dog. This is the rape victim. This is the woman who was abused. This is the woman who supposedly would die before letting anything like this happen to her again, and she rolls over and comes to heel at this guy's bidding? What a pile of horseshit.
That's when I quit reading this garbage; when the villain went into his bedroom - where Cara was taking a bath, and he spies on her through the slightly open bathroom door, and then while she's still in the bathroom and could exit at any time, he begins himself to change for dinner - and without taking a bath. Later Cara decides of this pervert, "He doesn't look villainous, he looks devilish...or delicious." Barf.
Did #MeToo never make it as far as New Zealand? I find it hard to believe. Maybe Anita Exley is simply clueless. Whatever the reason, this novel is garbage.