Karina Cooper recently released her second St. Croix chronicles book, Gilded, and you better believe RT editors Elisa and Regina were excited! After Dishing about book one, Tarnished, they were both eager to pick up the second. Set in Cooper's seamless steampunk Victorian London, the series follows Cherry St. Croix — a woman leading two lives, one spent as a proper lady high above the fog drift that separates the city, and as a collector, aka bounty hunter, in the grimy London Below. Book two follows Cherry as she searches for a murderer in the Below and a husband Above, and both Elisa and Regina were anxious to see what the future holds for the conflicted heroine.
Elisa: In Gilded, Karina Cooper does a great job of setting up her steampunk Victorian world for those who may have missed Tarnished, the first Cherry St. Croix book.
Regina: Right, although people really should read Tarnished.
Regina: For their own health and well-being.
Elisa: It's mandatory reading.
Regina: But you're right. I liked that the exposition seemed really well integrated into what was going on in the early part of this story. It didn't feel like a giant info dump.
Elisa: It didn't. The story picks up where Tarnished left off, with Cherry still trying to find the murderer responsible for killing prostitutes — many of whom she feels connected to from her time working Below. (For you newcomers, in Cooper’s world London is separated by a fog drift, with the well-groomed London Above elevated on stilts from the unsavory London Below.)
Regina: Right, she's still deeply enmeshed in the world of London Below — and her opium addiction hasn't gotten any better.
Elisa: Nope. She's running out of money to fund her habit and must continue to look for collector work to replenish her stash.
Regina: Not to mention that she still owes a debt to the Karakash Veil, acting as their "pet" collector.
Elisa: Her life is kind of a mess. Owing a debt to the gangsters of London Below is definitely not a good thing, and balancing it with the societal pressure to find a husband in London Above is just about enough to almost push Cherry over the edge.
Regina: Especially since the one thing Cherry values above all else is her independence. Being tied to anyone — debtor or husband — is not something she's especially excited about.
Elisa: She's very firm in her decision to not marry and instead collect the inheritance from her guardian that’s promised to her when she turns 21. Her chaperone, Fanny, is insistent that she take Lord Compton up on his advances. He's clearly interested, but Cherry has other things to worry about. And I personally think they're a little more pressing than an Earl.
Regina: Agreed! But I will say, one of the things I loved is that the Lord, Cornelius, is — as far as prospective husbands are concerned — not a bad choice. He respects Cherry's intelligence and fierce spirit.
Elisa: Although, he doesn't know about her opium addiction, or the collecting ...
Regina: Right — there's the rub. Cherry has two lives that could work entirely separate from one another, but the tension of trying to be both people, both Cherry St. Croix and "Miss Black" (as Menagerie ringmaster Micajah Hawke down Below calls her), just isn't working. And more and more it feels like the life she lives in London Below is invading her life in London Above.
Elisa: Fanny already knows that she's been going below and doing unladylike things. The cat is halfway out of the bag. And then, the respected Lady Rutledge from Above challenges Cherry to find another murderer, someone who has been killing the city's professors.
Regina: Which inevitably draws Cherry back down Below. She and her new maid/friend Zylphia head down to track clues at the college located beneath the drift, gambling with their lives in the process. And as her opium supply dwindles, it's getting harder for Cherry to successfully track anyone.
Elisa: Is it bad that I kind of like Cherry's drug addiction? I mean, I wouldn’t support that kind of behavior or anything, but it adds another layer to the story. It makes you wonder if she could ever live the life of a proper lady, which is something she's struggling with despite her firm decision not to marry.
Regina: Totally feel you on that. Cherry's past, as an orphan who ended up working in an underground circus and picking up a drug habit in the bargain, just makes her that much more fascinating, and while I don't know that she wants the staid domestic life of a genteel housewife, she does seem to like Cornelius at least. She just doesn't want to HAVE to choose.
Elisa: Exactly. Deep down, she knows it would be the best decision for her and her family. She wants Fanny and her staff to be taken care of, and as she gets to know Cornelius, she realizes that he's not all that bad. She just has to deal with the serial killer offing professors, first, which she feels compelled to do because she thinks that somehow the dead professors are connected to her scientist mother and father, and may reveal more about her deceased parents.
Regina: And she has good reason to think that — since everything surrounding the murders seems to point to some project her father might have been developing, involving alchemy.
Elisa: As she inches closer to uncovering the culprit, she finds herself becoming more and more involved with Cornelius and London Above as well. How this girl has time to deal with both deranged serial killers and the pretentious women of elite society is beyond me.
Regina: Oh boy, like her possible future mother-in-law, the Marchioness and her hangers-on. I'd sooner take my chances with the thieves and killers Below.
Elisa: I really feel for her, I couldn't be so well behaved with those women insulting me and slandering my family's name.
Regina: And that's one of the really incredible things about the series — you see some of the upper-crust folk behaving so terribly, you start to wonder if they're really any better than the lower classes who populate the world below the fog. And the hypocrisy — Cherry faces a lot of blowback for her "unusual" interest in scientific inquiry and her reluctance to marry. But someone like her pal Teddy doesn't really have to worry about his reputation.
Elisa: I love Teddy so much. I really wish there was more of him in Gilded. I also kind of wish she would've just married Teddy, her not-so-cute, not-so-rich best friend who accepts her despite all of her so-called flaws. But, alas, she does not. Her decision in the end was still a surprise, though.
Regina: Did you know that I picture Tom Hiddleston as Teddy? Not Loki Tom Hiddleston, just cute ginger Tom Hiddleston.
Elisa: He's too cute to be Teddy! I was thinking a younger Benedict Cumberbatch (who is also cute, but more of an ugly/cute).
Regina: But you're right — her choice ... and the consequences of it, are pretty shocking. By the end of Gilded, it becomes crystal clear that Cherry will never be able to hang on to both worlds.
Elisa: It's just not possible. The ending was pretty mind-blowing though. Karina Cooper was especially daring with this book, and I think it really worked in the story's favor.
Regina: I do, too! It's hard to discuss this without any spoilers but when the book ended, I needed to take a day before beginning another book — something I don't do very often!
Elisa: Which is why everyone should go pick up a copy of Gilded. And Tarnished. If you like Urban Fantasy, you won’t want to skip out on this series.
Regina: Yes, I can't wait to see what's coming in book three!