Dangerous Romance Book Reviews's Reviews > Tarnished

Tarnished by Karina Cooper
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Aug 17, 12

Read in July, 2012

My name is Cherry St. Croix. Society would claim that I am a well-heeled miss with an unfortunate familial reputation. They've no idea of the truth of it. In my secret world, I hunt down vagrants, thieves . . . and now, a murderer. For a monster stalks London's streets, leaving a trail of mystery and murder below the fog.

Eager for coin to fuel my infatuations, I must decide where my attentions will turn: to my daylight world, where my scientific mind sets me apart from respectable Society, or to the compelling domain of London below. Each has a man who has claimed my time as his—for good or for ill. Though as the corpses pile, and the treacherous waters of Society gossip churn, I am learning that each also has its dangers. One choice will see me cast from polite company . . . the other might just see me dead.


The world that Cooper has created is a fascinating, fun, and has an interesting if unbelievable twist on Victorian London.

Our Heroine, Cherry St. Croix, is the daughter of a scientific madman. Orphaned at a young age, she was forced to live in lower London, filled with crime; poverty, and black smog so thick, folks must wear goggles to see in it. Above, the wealthy have ratcheted up all the beautiful homes, businesses and museums, and they travel around in the clean air by way of steamship. I kept waiting for someone to fall off a front porch and drop 1000 feet below or something but it never happened.

When Cherry's parents died tragically when she was a child, she became a child of the streets; a theif, a circus performer, and unfortunately an opium addiction was forced upon her at a young age so the Fagin like leader of the gang of children could keep them in line. She was practically feral when she was rescued by her Guardian and she has been raised ever since by the staff at the beautiful home she lives in, and she tries to live up to their ideals. Her guardian is another mystery we have yet to solve as he is never around and she wouldn't recognize him if she saw him on the streets, despite the years that have gone by of her living in his home under his protection.

Now she is expected to live “above”, to have with manners and dignity, and to try to get society to forget that her father was a brilliant but crazed man, who invented many of the things the wealthy live by now, but who was not accepted socially. However, Cherry’s guardian, despite never being around, is accepted enough to get her invited to the high society balls that she attends with her best friend Teddy, an aristocrat's son. Teddy seems to find her scientific mind and beautiful face a fascinating puzzle, but doesn't appear to be in love with her, he is more of a brotherly type. Her staff desperately hope she will make a good match, if not with Teddy, then hopefully with one of his friends as he squires her around town. However there are some very large obstacles looming in the way.

Cherry is a girl with a lot of secrets. She has a terrible past, most of which she must keep secret or she won’t be accepted in polite society, of which even in a steampunk alternate reality of London, she still must abide by the strictures of Victorian society or risk being made a pariah. She has her secret opium addiction, forced on her as a child by the Fagen like man who ran the kids gang, as a way of keeping the children compliant. Having escaped this environment, the addiction is still with her however, forcing her to take risks that no woman from polite society would normally take. In order to fund her habit, she is forced to create an alternate persona.

By day, she is a respectable member of society, living in above London, wearing beautiful gowns and attending wealthy people’s society events, by night she is dressed like a man, wearing goggles so she can see in lower London’s smog and working as a bounty hunter. No one from either world can ever learn her secret or else her worlds will collide.

In the above life, there is a handsome Earl’s son who is starting to woe her, in the below world, there is Cage, a handsome dark secret of a man himself, who works for the largest gang in Below London, a Chinese Tong type gang that runs the prostitutes who work in Covent Garden and the Circus of which Cage is the Manager. Cage, on the surface, could seem like a monster given his lifestyle, but he is not a one dimensional character.

A murderer is killing prostitutes and her friends at the Garden, the soiled doves, have hired her to find the killer. In attempting to do this, Cherry is forced to take risks she has never taken before with both her identities, and winds up finding out things about her own past that shock and horrify her. The story has a lot of twists and turns. A stolen bounty, murdered informants, that lead her back to the man she wants to avoid at all costs. She knows Cage is dangerous but on this case, Cherry has gotten in over her head and needs his help.

I really enjoyed this book. It had so many loose ends it left me feeling a little frustrated so I had to read it again! Of course, I won’t be satisfied until the next book comes out but still…..Cherry has strange relationships with all the men in her life. Her best friend is a man of society who loves to talk science with her in the above world, but who may have secrets of his own. The other aristocrat who is interested in her, the Earl’s son seems to have mysterious motives, and Cage is a complete cypher…saving her over and over and yet keeping his distance emotionally. Oh and she might have a serial killer with a crush on her. It’s a fascinating, fun, steampunk of a ride. Hop on one of the Zepher’s and find out all about Cherry’s world. It is a place of Victorian society rules, scientific discoveries, urban fantasy magic, and clockworks galore. Cage is delicious. Also the book gets extra points for its "Saved by sex" scene alone.
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