Bree T's Reviews > India Black

India Black by Carol K. Carr
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Mar 24, 2011

really liked it
bookshelves: historical-fiction, library-reads, series

Don’t be fooled by that well-bred looking woman on the cover there. While she is beautiful and well dressed, India Black is a whore. And she tells you so in the second sentence! Shamelessly upfront and honest about it, she has mostly retired from the profession herself these days and runs a brothel, preferring to sit back and count the cash rather than be flat on her back for it. She keeps an organised house, well appointed with good whiskey and cigars and attractive, clean and well kept girls to draw in the punters of a certain class and it’s a lifestyle that is working well for her.

Until a client dies whilst in the throes of passion with one of her girls.

Turns out said client was in possession of some rather sensitive papers at the time of his death and they, along with the whore he was visiting, have now gone missing, disappearing into the night. Sir Archibald Latham (referred to as Bowser by India and her girls for his penchant for dressing up as the Prince Consort) was from the War Office and the disappearance of sensitive papers regarding war-type things has the British Prime Minister of the time, Benjamin Disraeli desperate to get them back before the Russians do, or before his arch enemy, former PM William Gladstone sees the contents. So India is enlisted by French, a mysterious agent of the government and Disraeli to help in getting the papers back. They know the Russians have them, but they also know the Russians haven’t actually read them yet. India needs to call upon all her old tricks to distract the Russian operative in possession of the documents and then steal them back and deliver them to French.

India, her professional reputation and her livelihood on the line, has no chance but to go along with this plan. From then on it’s a game of cat and mouse as the English side (India and French) try to outwit the Russian side, get outwitted themselves by a dopey clergyman intent on saving the soul of India’s girls, and then fight to regain the upper hand (which they do, and then lose it several times only to regain it again etc, over the course of the novel). While all this is going on, India and the enigmatic French (known to the reader and India by only his last name) are having a battle of wits and power struggle amongst themselves.

Clever – that’s the first word that comes to mind upon finishing this book. The writing is very, very clever. This wasn’t so much a recommendation to me as it was me being curious about it after hearing someone describing their enjoyment of it and deciding I had to read it. Having recently become a fan of the Lady Julia Grey series by Deanna Raybourn I thought I might enjoy this and I wasn’t wrong. But this novel is definitely more than those and while Lady Julia and India do share a few vaguely similar traits, India is clearly a more definitive and sarcastic voice.

Sassy and intelligent, we aren’t told in this book how India comes to fall into prostitution but she has the brains and business know how to get herself out of it and become the madam instead. She’s a really interesting protagonist voice, especially for the setting of the novel in Victorian England. Her sharp wit and and dry narrative provide a lot of really memorable quotes and it’s also a style that doesn’t grate, in a way that is sort of similar to the voice of Alexia Tarabotti in Gail Carriger’s Parasol Protectorate novels. The humour and tone are maintained through the whole journey with never a falter and each new page is as enjoyable as the previous. Although India could easily have become quite irritating, Carr is skillful in drawing her character and she remains simply charming and funny and with just enough spice to make her willing to do things that ordinary Victorian maidens wouldn’t but not stupid enough that you think she should’ve been dead from the first chapter.

I’ve mentioned before that I’m quite a sucker for a mysterious man and French fits the bill. Appearing in the dead of night full of cryptic comments and vague assistance, he reappears to convince India to take part in the plan that the British government have concocted to retrieve the papers and then remains close by throughout the rest of the attempts to secure the papers. He warms to India throughout their journey together and although their interactions are laced with sarcasm, it’s easy to see where the author is going with them. There’s nothing happening in this novel but their possible developing relationship (for want of a better term) is definitely one of the things that’s keeping me excited for the second book in the series, due out in October 2011.

If there is one thing that is lacking in this novel it’s not the quality of the mystery but the execution. There’s only so many times two groups of people can steal documents off each other before they both start to look faintly ridiculous and unfortunately, the characters do cross that line! With French supposedly some British government agent/spy type character and the Russians having their equivalent, it’s amusing how often each side takes the papers only to have them snatched back by the other. I think that perhaps this book goes 2 steps too far in this cat and mouse back and forth game which is a bit of a shame because the rest of it is so awesome.

If Carr can make the actual plot execution in the next novel just that tiny bit tighter then I think she’ll have a flawless piece of work. And even with the slight nitpick that I had with this novel, it in no way detracted from my enjoyment. I borrowed this from the local library but I think I’m going to have to buy it because it’s definitely a novel that I can see myself re-reading again and again.
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