Publish Date: Out today
How we got this book: ARC from the publisher
Magic existed at the fringes until Prince Albert discovered he was a mage. Now he and others like him are leading a revolution in steam technology that’s held tight in the grip of the upper classes.
A man of half-Indian heritage, rejected by his upper-crust, mage-gifted family, Gregor Sherringford lives in working-class London, investigating cases involving magic among the lower classes. But he’s never met a client quite like spirited, stubborn Joan Krieger.
Joan’s dream was to lead a fashion revolution designing women’s clothing suited to the new technology. But when her richest client mysteriously dies outside her shop, it deals a mortal blow to her dreams.
She hopes the handsome, enigmatic detective can prove the death a magical murder. She never expected a dark plot would be woven right into the fabric of her family. Or that cracking the case will mean merging gifts, minds—and hearts—with the one man who could be her partner in every way. If they survive the release of a soul-binding curse.
Warning: This novel contains an intelligent, repressed detective and a woman who won’t take no for an answer, not when she hires him…and not when she falls in love with him.
This blurb came from Goodreads
E: I have enjoyed reading murder mysteries from a rather young age so when I read this blurb and saw that it contained murder, magic, private investigators, dreams for the future, and love I had to give The Curse of the Brimstone Contract a try. I am glad that I did because I completely enjoyed reading this first installment and I am looking forward to seeing what Lawson creates as this series goes forward.
Marlene: I saw the words steampunk and detectives and I was all in. I’ve heard good things about Corrina Lawson, so I wanted to try something by her. Since this was the opening book of a series, it seemed like a good place to start. That it turned out to be an alternate version of a Sherlock Holmes story was just icing on the cake!
Speaking of Sherlock Holmes, I utterly adore Holmes pastiches, but this definitely is one. (The name Sherringford gives it away even before you read the description of the hero)
Sherringford is every bit as intelligent and enigmatic as his original. A consulting detective who solves cases the police can’t using methods of deduction. The way he turns his emotions on and off seems just right.
E: And now you have me wanted to dig up my collection of Sherlock Holmes stories! Anyways I found Sherringford rather fascinating. His focus on the science or reason “why” behind events not to mention his awareness of political currents added to his depth of character. I also enjoyed how he tested every prospective client to see if they had the mental agility and certain need to put up with his idiosyncrasies before even beginning the discussion about what they wanted him to investigate. I also felt that his not quite belonging in any particular area – visible magical ability or not, aristocracy or not was an asset when it came to his investigations.
Marlene: One of the things about the story that isn’t in the summary, but was marvelous, is that the heroine Joan Krieger is Jewish. It’s not something I see often, but made her that much easier for me to identify with. What I enjoyed about her was the way she dove into the case; no sitting back and letting the men solve everything, unlike so many of Holmes’ clients.
Joan was used to working for a living, in a way that seemed realistic and not anachronistic. She was used to dealing with her own problems, and hiring Sherringford to solve the mystery of the enchanted garments wasn’t a way of passing off the problem for her, it was a way of finding professional assistance. I loved the way that she kept rescuing herself, even if her efforts sometimes went awry. She’s never passive about events unless she’s waiting for a better time to get herself out of her current predicament.
The progress of Joan and Sherringford’s relationship reminds me of Mary Russell in Laurie R. King’s series (start with The Beekeeper’s Apprentice for an absolute treat).
E: I also really enjoyed Joan. She had wishes and dreams and was used to working to obtain them. I liked how her independence transitioned to the investigation as she refused to let Sherringford go off on his own but insisted on maintaining an active role. The way she dealt with a variety of supporting characters ranging from her hired seamstresses to a few rather unsavory types was also extremely telling. It fit nicely with how she built her relationship with Sherringford and at the same time worked to extricate herself from an unwanted pending marriage.
Marlene: I found the worldbuilding to be absorbing and as logical as one ever gets when postulating that someone (in this case Prince Albert) discovered magic. The way that the upper classes controlled magic usage seemed just right. In a rigid class society, anything that had the potential to allow upward mobility was going to be regulated and quashed.
E: I enjoyed the world-building. It actually reminded me of the Lord Darcy series by Randall Garrett, which is another alternate world Sherlock Holmes *grin*. I loved the complexity Lawson brought to her creation and how holes in the class stratification system were beginning to form. In this world, a lack of knowledge was deadly but the spread of knowledge was also tightly controlled which reinforced a power imbalance and added to the overall tension. It also hinted at the potential of a yet to be named individual pulling all of the strings and really catching my interest for more.
Marlene: Oh my goodness yes! Lord Darcy! Those were so marvelous and it was beyond sad that the series (and the author) were cut short untimely.
E: While I did figure out a piece of the mystery, Lawson included a rather interesting twist that I was not suspecting. It certainly made me wonder how many events in the past that negatively impacted Joan’s future livelihood were chance or chance given a little nudge. I thought the conclusion to this story was very intriguing and certain individuals received their just results. I am really looking forward to what Lawson provides for the next installment because this first one was a great introduction and lots of fun to read.
I give The Curse of the Brimstone Contract an A-
Marlene: This is, at heart, a mystery, like all Holmes stories. I did guess who the “lesser evil” was, but not the “greater evil”. It makes sense now, but as you read, it is definitely not obvious. However, I wonder if this is the first book in a series. I hope so. Not just because Inspector Moran is clearly not done, but because Sherringford was hinting at a spider in the web, just as Moriarty was Moran’s boss in the original series.
I had fun with this story, and I look forward to more.
I give The Curse of the Brimstone Contract a B+