Crystal Gardens, by Amanda Quick

>> Thursday, November 28, 2013

TITLE: Crystal Gardens
AUTHOR: Amanda Quick

PAGES: 400

SETTING: Victorian England
TYPE: Romance
SERIES: Ladies of Lantern Street #1

Evangeline Ames has rented a country cottage far from the London streets where she was recently attacked. Fascinated by the paranormal energy of nearby Crystal Gardens, she finds pleasure in sneaking past the wall to explore the grounds. And when her life is threatened again, she instinctively goes to the gardens for safety.

Lucas Sebastian has never been one to ignore a lady in danger, even if she is trespassing on his property. Quickly disposing of her would-be assassin, he insists they keep the matter private. There are rumors enough already, about treasure buried under his garden and occult botanical experiments performed by his uncle—who died of mysterious causes. With Evangeline’s skill for detection, and Lucas’s sense of the criminal mind, they soon discover that they have a common enemy. And as the energy emanating from Crystal Gardens intensifies, they realize that to survive they must unearth what has been buried for too long.

Crystal Gardens is the first in a new Amanda Quick trilogy (alas, still within the Arcane Society world), called the Ladies of Lantern Street. It's centred around a group of women who work for Flint and Marsh, a sort-of detective agency which specialises in looking into the backgrounds of potential suitors. They do so by posing as paid companions, but secretly all use their paranormal powers in addition to their investigative skills.

Evangeline Ames is one of these investigators and as the book starts, she's installed in a small village a good distance from London. A recent case of hers had a distressing end, when a suitor she had discovered to be a fortune-hunter tried to kill her for interfering and ended up dead himself. Evangeline, who is also on the way to becoming a successful author of gothic stories, decides to take a little break and get out of town, and concentrate on her writing.

And then one night, another attempt is made on her life. Evangeline is able to escape her house and leads her pursuer onto the neighbouring Crystal Gardens. She's aware of the paranormal energy in the gardens, and knows it will give her an edge.

Evangeline is aided by Lucas Sebastian, the man who's recently inherited the gardens (and the big house that goes with them!). His uncle, the previous owner, died under mysterious circumstances, and Lucas and Evangeline end up working together to uncover both mysteries: that of Lucas's uncle and of who wants Evangeline dead.

On the plus side, I really liked the romance here. I thought it had some of the elements I loved in vintage JAK, where there often was a palpable feeling of need for each other in the hero and heroine. With Lucas, especially, she conveyed well the loneliness and the yearning for intimacy, which only Evangeline could give him. The romance also feels more central than it has in previous books, where the emphasis has been much too much on the half-baked paranormal and suspense elements.

Those, by the way, were still ho-hum. The mystery was pretty boring and by the numbers, but at least the paranormal aspect of it was not that prominent and didn't bother me.

What did bother me was that, ever since I've started listening to JAK's books in audio, I've started noticing an issue that I hadn't picked up on in previous ones (I'm not sure if it wasn't there, or if it's listening to the text that brings it out). The dialogue is written as if for people who can't go from A to B, however close those two points may be, without being led by the hand. There is a LOT of stating the obvious here, to the point that it's actually quite funny (if unintentionally so). Paraphrasing here, it went something like: "He attacked me with a knife" - "Are you saying, sir, he tried to murder you?" - "Yes, Miss Ames, he did". It might not look too annoying here, but the constant repetition was quite extraordinary.


AUDIOBOOK NOTES: The version I listened to was the unabridged one, narrated by Justine Eyre. I didn't like her narration very much. I felt sometimes she gave the dialogue intonations that weren't really supported by the text, and she spoke with a sort of quaver in her voice that I found a bit annoying. Her male voices were also not very good. Still, not bad enough to stop listening, just not great.


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