Review: Tarnished by Karina Cooper

Sunday, June 3, 2012
Title: Tarnished
Author: Karina Cooper
Genre: steampunk, historical fiction
Series: The St. Croix Chronicles #1
Pages: 384 (Nook ARC edition)
Published: expected June 26 2012
Source: publishers via edelweiss
Rating: 4/5

In Victorian London, where science skirts the line between magic and mechanics, one stubborn miss will face shadows from her past, demons from her desires, and choices that will forever shape who she is.

A brand-new, sexy series from Karina Cooper featuring fearless heroine Cherry St. Croix-debutante by day, bounty hunter by night-set in an alternate London where proper Victorian society sits above a seedy steampunk underworld teeming with dubious loyalties, advanced technology, and incredible magic.

After going through several (5 or more) steampunk novels last month I took a bit of a breather, only to be broken when I couldn't resist the synopsis for Cherry's first exploits and I am glad I did. Fun, easy and with a new outlook on alchemy and steampunkey (not to mention London!), Tarnished is a fun, entertaining read. The beginning novel of a new series blending steampunk, mystery and the paranormal, Karina Cooper delivers up the goods in her first outing of the Chronicles: a strong but likeable protagonist in Cherry St. Croix, handsome Earls with which to dally, Society drama to keep the intrigue high and the exploits hidden, the alluring and dangerous Micajah Hawke, and multiple unique and creative applications of steampunkery. In short, there is a lot of story, adventure and romance to be had here, and Karina Cooper makes the ride quite imaginative and original throughout. And, as an added bonus, you can pre-order this deceptively simple novel for only $4.99 for Nook! How can you resist that? Fans of Gail Carriger's Parasol Protectorate series or Tee Morris and Pip Ballantine's Ministry of Pecular Occurrences novels might look to find their next fix between the pages of Tarnished.

A blend of several genres, it is the steampunk that stands to the fore here. Largely, that is due to the author's original conception of a lower and upper London -- one divided in half, with the rich and elite literally raised above, on steel stilts higher than the fog of the industrial, steam-powered "London below" of the less fortunate. ("The city above the drift glimmered and danced; a glittering dowager festooned with diamonds. Below, she was pocked and diseased, her skirts hanging torn and stained around her roughened knees." ARC, p.47) I love when authors actual use steampunk to be creative, rather than as drapery for a scene or as a simple deux-ex-machina (coughTheSteampunkChroniclescough), and happily for me, this is one such author. I really like the idea of London raised on stilts -- it's like a steampunk Venice, with air canals and sky gondolas as part and parcel of the whole shebang. The accompanying gadgets and gizmos dreamed up to operate in this imagined version of London perfectly complement Cherry's role as a collector, and the story at large. This bifurcated London is very different, wholly unique but one that still provides a familiar backdrop. Other imagined aspects of London that Cooper has created, like the Midnight Menagerie, only add the atmosphere prevalent throughout the entire novel. This is a dark, sexy mystery set in the perfect locale.

Cherry St. Croix leads a double life, and it is a complicated one. Or two. Colored and judged by Society's perceptions of her "mad doctor" father and the beautiful-but-dead mother she hardly remembers, Cherry must eke out a living (and cash for her addiction) by collecing bounties. While bounty-hunting may not be the most believable means of income for a young lady of society, it naturally leads Cherry to the seedy (and literal) underbelly of London and the main plot of Tarnished. Cherry's involvement in the subsequent events and mysteries of the lower classes felt natural and evolved organically; though she is torn between her two lives (and the men in them! I foresee a major love-triangle forming over the horizon for book two!), she can operate easily within either. It's easy to distinguish Cherry-the-lady from her alter-ego, as well as it is easy to feel a rapport with the character. Though it took me a while to fully get there, this spirited and intelligent character makes a favorable, lasting impression as a protagonist. I do feel a bit of apprehension with the definite possibility of love-triangles forming for Cherry in further novels (Micajah Hawke, Cornelius Kerrigan Compton) and hope the author has the aplomb to pull it off without spoiling the characterization developed so far for all characters involved.

A new spin on a lot of UF/steampunk favorites and tropes help to make Tarnished one of the more fun steampunk escapades I've read. With the events of book one mostly resolved and the few open plotlinese clearly extended toward a book two, I am eagerly awaiting more Midnight Menagerie (Hawke! I want more Hawke, definitely), more freakish alchemy and fresh interpretations of old ideas from this inventive author. I can't wait for book two.


  1. one) gorgeous cover
    two) Cherry St Croix?! I want that to be my name.
    three) I need to read this, like, now.

    1. I really like it - and the fact that this is steampunk and they resisted clockwock on the cover makes me super happy!
      2. I KNOW. Usually I roll my eyes at the aames chosen for heroines but hers is fun!


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