Thursday, 5 November 2015

Review: Mortal Arts by Anna Lee Huber

Publication Date: September 3rd 2013
Publisher: Berkley
Length: 384 pages

Scotland, 1830. Lady Kiera Darby is no stranger to intrigue—in fact, it seems to follow wherever she goes. After her foray into murder investigation, Kiera must journey to Edinburgh with her family so that her pregnant sister can be close to proper medical care. But the city is full of many things Kiera isn’t quite ready to face: the society ladies keen on judging her, her fellow investigator—and romantic entanglement—Sebastian Gage, and ultimately, another deadly mystery.
Kiera’s old friend Michael Dalmay is about to be married, but the arrival of his older brother—and Kiera’s childhood art tutor—William, has thrown everything into chaos. For ten years Will has been missing, committed to an insane asylum by his own father. Kiera is sympathetic to her mentor’s plight, especially when rumors swirl about a local girl gone missing. Now Kiera must once again employ her knowledge of the macabre and join forces with Gage in order to prove the innocence of a beloved family friend—and save the marriage of another…

I adored ‘The Anatomist’s Wife’ – it was the first book I read this year and it really got my reading year off to a wonderful start. It was quiet, dark and atmospheric with engaging characters and a thrilling story – a recipe for success.So I was eager to get on with the rest of the Lady Darby series, and last week I finally sat down with this, the second book in the series, eager and excited to get swept back into the mysteries of Kiera’s world.

However all did not go quite as expected. I expected a similarly beautifully written historical novel with a dark and thrilling mystery that kept me on my toes right until the climax. What I got instead was a well enough written story with glaringly obvious plot twists stuffed full of modern and American phrases.

Oh how I wept. Where was the stunning writing of the first book? The period appropriate language? The plot that kept me guessing with my heart in my throat as the final confrontation loomed? All absent, and sadly as a result the novel suffered.

It was well enough written and enjoyable enough that I did still enjoy the story and this instalment in Kiera’s life and exploits with Gage. However it didn’t grab me in the same way as the first book. Every twist was glaringly obvious, signposted from the outset, and I experienced no shock or surprise as each laborious motive was uncovered at the end. I frequently found myself wincing at the language – ‘no worries’ for example smacks of modern day conversations, and after searching online to try and prove myself wrong the earliest uses I could seem to find of it in England/Scotland were in 1980, a little way off the 1830s setting… It’s not the only instance of modern language creeping in, and the liberal use of Americanisms was decidedly upsetting for a novel supposedly set in Scotland/England in the early nineteenth century.

All in all this was not Kiera’s finest hour. I have not been put off from continuing the series but I am warier, and I live in hope that the third book will recover the ground lost in the second and bring the series back up to scratch. The second novel is competent enough but nothing like the glorious darkness of the first, and leaves a decidedly bitter taste in the mouth upon finishing.

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