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While I had some reservations the first Mia Marlowe book I read, I have to say I had none with The Curse of Lord Stanstead. This new book was a page-turner from beginning to end. And it has to do with the amazing cast of characters that Marlowe has created.
The Sensory Extraordinaires are part of an organization headed by the Duke of Camden -- the members all come from different walks to life and levels of society: one is a viscount, one a former maid, one an heir to an earldom, and one a courtesan -- but what they all have in common is the gifts they possess.
The Duke of Camden is like a regency Professor Charles Xavier, who has the gift to detect others who have a unique ability. His latest discovery is Cassandra Darkin, a fire mage who has recently come into her power. The Duke assigns Vesta LaMotte, another fire mage, and Garret Sterling, to oversee Cassandra's training.
I really enjoyed the world that Marlowe has created for her characters. It's still London, but it's a London that is filled with people with special gifts -- it reminded me a bit of the London in Susanna Clarke's Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell -- the contrast between the ordinary and the extraordinary just brought out the best in one another. While Clarke's characters have very personal motivations, what drives Marlowe's characters is their sense of responsibility to use their powers for the good of the many.
"The life you conceived for yourself is over. Oh, there will still be routs and balls and all the trimmings of a Season. ... But you will never be the same debutante running hot in the husband hunt again."
Cassie frowned at her. "You make my life sound so frivolous."
"That's because it is. It was. You may safely give up plans to wed some lord and preside over a proper household. it is never going to happen. You're not meant for that life."
- loc 588
We see the world through Cassandra's eyes -- and we understand her bewilderment and reservation -- entering this new world would mean turning her back on her life and dreams, but it's also impossible not to be attracted to her fellow "muses" and their talents. Especially Garret Sterling. Like Cassandra, I became fascinated with all the members -- and Marlowe does a good job of dropping hints to each one's backstory and history.
Part of the fire mage personality is passion, and, in Marlowe's world, this passion needs to be ... *ahem* extinguished from time to time, or else it would consume the mage. Garret has volunteered to help Cassie with her predicament, and it's fascinating to read about their early encounters: all business, but also all pleasure. We're often wary of lust in romance novels, but Marlowe's take of it is assuring: she shows how it is impossible to separate one's heart and one's body -- and, eventually, Garret and Cassie succumb to feelings beyond lust and passion.
Falling in love and creating a relationship is just part of Marlowe's story -- the greater story is how the agents of M.U.S.E. use their abilities to help protect their country. Garret and Cassie are the active agents in this story and they had two assignments: first, to recover the Infinitum, and, second, to subdue the ASP. I was a bit concerned with the waxing/waning excitement caused by the resolution of the first case and the beginning of the second case -- there was a brief moment when I felt the story could've ended at the end of the Infinitum case, but I trusted that the author had a point to the ASP plot --
And it was amazing! Garret has psychic abilities, but he also has the curse of "dreaming" of his loved ones' deaths -- ever since his fiancee's death, Garret has closed himself off to the possibility of a deeper connection -- but Cassie knocks down Garret's defences. It's very subtle, but Marlowe quietly tackles the idea of pre-determination -- are we truly powerless to change the course of our lives or do we have a say in our future? (Short answer is no. The longer answer is the reason why Marlowe pursued the ASP storyline.)
There are some really beautiful exchanges between Cassie and Garret, highlighting emotion and drama. Here's my favourite:
"Does that mean --"
"That I love you." He smiled down at her. "With all my heart."
And then he was done with words.
- Loc 1880
When I finished reading this book, I felt a great sense of satisfaction and enjoyment -- and now I find that I am stalking Mia Marlowe's website, waiting for an announcement for the next instalment of this series.
The Curse of Lord Stanstead is Book 1 in Mia Marlowe's Order of the Muse series. To find out more about Mia Marlowe and her books, click below:
Disclosure: I received this review copy via Netgalley. Thank you to Entangled Publishing and Mia Marlowe for the opportunity. Yes, this is an honest review.