Hidden identities, scandalous secrets…deadly attraction.
Frederique Murcheson’s introduction into society hasn’t gone smoothly—some would even call it a disaster. Only Freddie considers her debut a success. Her scheme to become a makesmith has gone off flawlessly. The only thing that could upset her plans now would be if someone discovered that brilliant tinker Fred Merchant is, in fact, a lady in disguise.
Wooing a spoiled heiress is not exactly Barnabas Smith-Grenville’s idea of high espionage. However, considering his brother disappeared on the job, supposedly into the most iniquitous of opium dens, he cannot expect much better. At least the assignment will afford him time to search for his brother, whom he suspects is in spy-related trouble rather than a drug-addled haze.
But when Freddie proves to be both irresistible and the key to the answers he seeks, Barnabas finds himself not only entwined in a scandalous mystery involving lethal submersibles and deranged dirigibles, but also in a dangerous game of the heart…
*This blurb came from the author’s http://www.delphinedryden.com website.
Marlene: I picked up Gilded Lily because I generally like steampunk, and because I’d already read both of the first two books in the series, Gossamer Wing (reviewed at Reading Reality) and Scarlet Devices (jointly reviewed at The Book Pushers with E) We both enjoyed the first two trips to Dryden’s alternate Victorian world so much that we’re back!
Even though this is book 3 in the series, I don’t think that readers absolutely must start with book 1. There is some background that fits, but I completely forgot that there even had been two before when I started this one, and had to catch my memory up a bit. Book 2 knocks out one of the big evils, and takes place on a different continent, so there aren’t a lot of major continuing characters.
E: Yes, I really enjoyed the first two trips so I was very glad to team up with Marlene to discuss this third installment. I also agree that this would work as a standalone the only characters I remembered were either briefly mentioned in this story or briefly mentioned in the previous one. I am glad to say that Dryden remains on my list of steampunk authors to auto-buy with this installment.
Marlene: I love Freddie. She is tremendously fun as a heroine, because she is so unconventional and surprisingly unashamed of that fact. She seems to be maintaining the appearance of conventionality more because she would miss her friends and family than because she can’t make a go of it on her own. (Or so she thinks, and nearly gets her comeuppance in a scene worthy of a penny-dreadful, until she subverts it)
There is a trope about the spy’s daughter who wants to follow in daddy’s footsteps, no matter how much daddy would prefer a “normal” or “safe” life for his child. The idea that his own profession has made that impossible in one way or another never seems to occur. So Freddie’s father thinks that he has pulled the wool over her eyes about his true profession, and Freddie thinks that she has him deceived about her alter-ego Fred Merchant the tinker.
E: I enjoy how Dryden has unconventional heroines and their methods of rebelling are different in each installment but no less shocking for the particular time and place. The trope Marlene mentions above is always a fun one. I have seen it used with the father supporting the daughter and also as in this case with the father trying to keep the daughter as far away from his real life as possible. Freddie was a lot of fun. She led a double-life and enlisted the assistance of several other people to help keep her secret. The way she tried to get around her father and how he tried to ensure he knew what she was doing. It was almost like a game of strategy until things got serious.
Marlene: Barnabas was such an interesting choice for the hero because he was so very beta. In the modern sense of “checking one’s privilege” Barnabas is absolutely certain that the world works in the way that things “ought” until he finds out different, over and over. He’s not just never really seen how the “other half lives” but he doesn’t have the concept that justice and fairness follow the money. He’s never seen anything less than fair treatment because he’s his father’s son and heir.
Freddie’s first impression of Barnabas is that he’s a “pudding”. She eventually discovers that he’s nowhere that bland, but he is rather impressionable. And he’s perfect for Freddie because he’s willing to let himself be influenced by her, where a traditional alpha hero would forcibly pull the reins out of her hands.
E: Barnabas was so very innocent. He wanted to find his brother and serve his country at the same time. Being assigned to keep an eye on Freddie without her knowing, in other words undercover as himself, was the first step in his path to greatness. Or so he thought until he had his first real conversation with Federique. I think I giggled my way through the entire scene and it certainly set the tone for much of their interaction. Watching his innocence become tarnished as he spent more time around Freddie and her adventures was a treat. Just as I enjoyed those moments when he was the one teaching Freddie a thing or two.
Marlene: I loved Freddie and Barnabas in that first scene. He thinks he has the upper hand, and she proves that he doesn’t. There was also a kind of sadness for me that her father seemed so set against letting her have the life she wanted that he kept assigning bodyguards she neither wanted nor needed.
Freddie and Barnabas play off each other quite nicely. She’s the “fool who rushes in where angels fear to tread” but he’s always ready to stand at her back and get her out. His wide-eyed innocence hides a desire for adventure; but he’s all to willing to let her lead the charge.
E: In addition to enjoying Barnabas and Freddie spar with each other as they both led double lives I was also rather interested in the mysterious circumstances involving a severe shortage of fish, murders, disappearances, glowing lights, and earthquakes. Dryden had so many different stakeholders and players all of whom were speculating and trying to manipulate or turn the situation into their favor. It was as if the schemes had spawned schemes of their own who were running amok. As I started putting the different pieces in place, Dryden still managed to introduce a few wild cards so I remained invested in the mystery elements until the very end.
Marlene: Gilded Lily spouted steam and plot-lines in every possible direction, and in a few directions that didn’t seem plausible at first. The disappearing fish, fishermen and equipment started out as competing interests, and ended up in a place worthy of Jules Verne at his finest. Everyone involved had a theory, and none of them went far enough!
I was very happy that although the villain was appropriately villainous, he didn’t go over the top into crazy BWAHAHA the way the villain did in Scarlet Devices. And he brought along a character that we’ve been waiting to see for a couple of books now.
E: Overall Gilded Lily was a lot of fun to read. I did have a moment or two when I reached for a tissue and a few times when I gasped in outrage but those balanced so nicely against the adventure, attraction, and overall mystery I almost needed their inclusion. Dryden also laid hints of a potential secondary romance that I would love to find out about maybe not as a standalone but as a continuing thread in future installments. With Gilded Lily Dryden remains on my list of authors who can meld steampunk elements into a world populated with vastly different characters without allowing one or the other to dominate. I am looking forward to seeing what she comes up next in this alternate world.
I give Gilded Lily a B+
Marlene: Freddie is absolutely my favorite type of heroine. The story fit with her established personality, that she is the alpha in this romance and Barnabas is the beta. It would not have worked nearly as well if he had taken over. There were some appropriately sad moments, not just with the secondary romance, but also in Freddie’s relationship with her assistant and especially with her father. Dad is acquiring more dimensions, and getting darker. He’s an “ends justify the means” kind of guy, and his means run roughshod over too many people, including Freddie and Barnabas. I could not figure out Freddie’s mother’s behavior at all.
I hope that the next story gets into the secondary romance from this one, which I’m desperately trying not to spoil. I can’t wait to see what future plots Dryden will uncover in this world.
I give Gilded Lily a B.