Mystery, magic, adventure and romance mixed to precise and perfect proportions make Corrina Lawson's The Curse of the Brimstone Contract one of my new favorites.
Steampunk is one of my genres of choice. So I am always on the lookout for a something new in that classification. The Curse of the Brimstone Contract fits the bill very nicely. Steam power makes machines run in 19th century London. But magic makes the wheels of commerce turn. Only the upper class possesses mage power and the nobility will do everything to ensure it stays that way.
Joan Krieger is the merchant seamstress who aspires to design trend-setting fashions and is on her way to getting a rich client to endorse her latest design. But her client dies under mysterious circumstances. When it appears the the cause of the death may have been magical, the family business comes under suspicion. It seems that Joan's prospects are dashed and her family's business is doomed.
Needing to know the truth about the suspicious death, Joan hires Gregor Sherringford to help her find the facts. Gregor is aloof, intelligent and seems to command a little magic himself. But his true genius is revealed when he recognizes Joan's quick mind and determined nature and agrees to team up with her.
There are many things I liked about The Curse of the Brimstone Contract. But mainly I like the two main characters.
Having a seamstress as a main character appeals to the needleworker in me. I've sewn all my life and even went through stage of designing my own clothes. I related to Joan's thrill of creating a new and unique design, especially one that is appreciated by others. Joan is creative and very intelligent. She is ever aware of class and sex differentiations that determine too much of her life. But her insistence in knowing the truth is what makes her bloom into a force to be reckoned with, whether you are her friend or her foe.
Gregor is a genius. He is also opinionated (arrogant), distracted, observant, enigmatic and seemingly magical. He is not always forthcoming, which only serves to annoy Joan. But overall, Gregor is a likable man, with an honorable nature that that is both attractive and sexy. Joan and Gregor make a formidable investigative team. And as they investigate the case, they get closer to each other.
The author mentions Arthur Conan Doyle as an influence. Yes, I can see a bit of Sherlock Holmes in Gregor. And for you Sci Fi fans, in Gregor, I also saw hints of The Doctor.
One of the ongoing themes in the book is the source of magic. Supposedly, only the upper echelon of society is supposed to be able to wield magic. Of course, when you think about that, there are all sorts of flaws with that theory, the primary one being that nobility does not consort only with nobility. So where did the magic come from in the first place? There is one theme that I really loved. The idea that energy of creativity is a source of magical power. That a person's ingenuity has the power to alter the rules of the world as we know it. I fear this idea spells trouble for the nobles of London.
There is so much more than a mystery to be solved in this book. Romance. Of course there is romance. Gregor's and Joan's ability to merge their minds to solve a mystery presages the sweet uniting of their hearts. In addition to mystery and romance, there are class issues, an arranged marriage (unwanted), old magic, curses, new magical ability, and secrets. So many secrets. There is not a boring page in The Curse of the Brimstone Contract. I hope to be reading another book in the series soon!