Monday, September 26, 2011

India Black and the Widow of Winsdor by Carol K. Carr

Summary (courtesy of GoodReads):   Black is back! Her Majesty's favorite spy is off to Scotland in this new adventure to ensure the Queen doesn't end up getting killed.

When Queen Victoria attends a séance, the spirit of her departed husband, Prince Albert, insists she spend Christmas at their Scottish home in Balmoral. Prime Minister Disraeli suspects the Scottish nationalists plan to assassinate the Queen-and sends the ever resourceful India and the handsome British spy, French, to the Scottish highlands.

French will take the high road, looking for a traitor among the guests-and India will take the low road, disguised as a servant in case an assassin is hiding among the household staff. India is certain that someone at Balmoral is determined to make this Her Majesty's last Christmas..

And here's what I thought:  I had read the first India Black book, so I was looking forward to reading Ms. Carr's second India book --- and, I wasn't disappointed.   If you aren't familiar with the character of India Black, you might want to read my post about the first book.     In this story, the focus is on Queen Victoria, who has been in mourning for her late husband, and who has an affinity for "communicating" with him via spiritualists.   The prologue sets everything up: Queen Victoria visits a spiritualist, and Albert "tells" Victoria that she should spend Christmas at Balmoral.   If you aren't familiar with Victorian history, this might not seem like a big deal ---- but Balmoral is a castle in Scotland that Victoria spent quite a lot of time at, both before and after her husband died.   The thing to note here is: Scotland.   Historically, Scotland has chafed under the rule of England (think: Braveheart) and that comes into play in this story.
I know, I know -- this isn't a history lesson; it's a book review.   But, if you don't know a bit of the history, the story doesn't make as much sense.  However, if you are familiar with some of the history, this book has a lot of details that you'll pick up. 

Overall, I thought the story was a lot of fun.   Ms. Carr mixes in enough accurate historical detail to make the settings and people seem realistic, without it being overwrought.   She also gives us interesting characters -- not only India, but French (who still remains a bit of a mystery in this second book), and in this story, the Marchioness, an elderly woman who enjoys partaking in snuff as often as she can (which is, by the way, completely disgusting, but manages to come off as pretty funny most of the time).    I really enjoy India's narration of the story because I like her character.   She's intelligent and has a wry humor about her.   It's clear that her background as a madam informs her view of the world, as she sometimes has pretty pointed observations of the people around her.   This does mean that she's not always nice; her portrayal of Queen Victoria isn't the most flattering.   But, I'm sure that Victoria, despite her commanding presence, wasn't necessarily a perfect person (especially at this point in her life).

I liked that there was some mystery in the story, mixed in with the history and thought this was an enjoyable read.  Well done, Carol Carr!!    

First sentences: "Alafair, you stupid girl.  It's First Samuel.  First Samuel, for goodness' sake."  Mrs. Evangeline LeBlanc rustled to the table in her black silk gown, taking up the heavy Bible from the table and flipping rapidly through its pages until she'd found the correct chapter and verse.
And here's a bit of the fun writing that I liked in this book:   "It amused me to cavort among the most powerful men in the land, men who wouldn't dare acknowledge me if they met me on the street but who weren't too proud to rely on a whore to help them out of a jam now and then...You may say it smacks of arrogance and that it's unseemly for a lady to gloat, but as I'm not a lady, I don't care ha'pence for your opinion."  (p. 44)

Thoughts on the cover:  Beautiful, and completely appropriate for the story -- and eye-catching!


Jo K said...

Never heard of India Black before, but it sounds interesting - a female detective in Victorian era, wow! Judging from you excerpts, the writing is beautiful, too. Thanks for the review!

Kat @ NoPageLeftBehind said...

I've not heard of this series but it definitely sounds like something I'd enjoy. Thanks for putting these books on my radar!

Alexis @ Reflections of a Bookaholic said...

I love the cover. I think this series sounds fun. I didn't realize there were two girls/spies.

Felicity Grace Terry said...

Wow what an amazing cover. Thanks for an informative review, I'll be certain to keep an eye out for these books.

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