Crystal Gardens (Ladies of Lantern Street #1) by Amanda Quick
Reading Level: Adult Romance
Release Date: April 24, 2012
Publisher: Putnam Adult
Pages: 352 pages
Source: Amazon Vine
Reviewed By: Kate McMurry
Evangeline Ames is a spinster by the social standards of Victorian England. She believes she has little chance of ever marrying because her father, an obsessed inventor, left her penniless when he committed suicide a few years after Evangeline's mother's death. Fortunately, after years of struggle, Evangeline has come into her own. She has a budding career writing "sensation" novels which are serialized in a newspaper, and she works as a paranormal "private inquiry agent," the historical equivalent of a modern private investigator (PI). She has the paranormal ability of being able to find anything, whether it is something lost, or some information that a criminal wants to hide. She works for an agency run by two women whose three investigators are all women with paranormal talents (the "ladies of Lantern Street" of the series title). The agency's primary clients are wealthy women who require a discrete investigation into men who might potentially be out to bilk either them or their heirs.
Since Evangeline always works in disguise, rendering her presumably invisible and anonymous to the people she investigates, prior to her most recent investigation, she did not consider her work dangerous. But not long before the story began, someone tried to murder her. Though she successfully defended herself (using means that I can't reveal without a spoiler), it was a tremendous shock. She has come to the small village of Little Digby for a dual purpose, to recover from the trauma of the attack and also to have uninterrupted time to work on her current novel, which has stringent deadlines for regularly delivering chapters to her publisher.
At the moment the story opens, Evangeline is struggling with writer's block and boredom. The only interesting thing in the neighborhood is the estate her cottage is attached to. Its gardens are notorious in the area for their weird and deadly plants which, rumor has it, killed the former owner. In spite of--or perhaps because of--these frightening tales, Evangeline has been gingerly exploring the outer areas of the estate, using her paranormal abilities to protect herself from stumbling into trouble with a garden that, she discovers to her delight, actually is infused with potent, paranormal energy.
As it turns out, it is extremely fortunate she has been trespassing into the mysterious estate, because another would-be murderer invades her home, and Evangeline flees from him onto the mystical estate grounds. There she encounters her landlord for the first time, the current owner of the estate, Lucas Sebastian. He helps Evangeline head off the murderer, and in the process each learns that the other has paranormal abilities, something neither has ever before encountered in the opposite sex.
I've been a fan of Jayne Ann Krentz's contemporary and futuristic romances for many years, but I did not begin reading her historical romances written as Amanda Quick until she added paranormal elements to them with tie-ins to her contemporary, Arcane Society books. I enjoyed the Arcane historical romances so much, I went back and read all the Amanda Quick historicals I had missed and thoroughly enjoyed them all.
Crystal Gardens is not directly part of the Arcane world in that none of the previous Arcane Society characters appear within it and the Arcane Society itself is never mentioned. However, the book's paranormal elements have similar names and functions to those in the Arcane series, so those who are fans of Krentz's Arcane books should enjoy this story.
In this book, Krentz employs a fan-favorite structure that she has used in essentially every one of her romantic-suspense novels: the hero and heroine meet, discover that each has a mystery to solve, that their mysteries are somehow tied together and, after much (often humorous) back-and-forth, stop fighting against each other and join forces. Besides this book, Krentz has also written multiple other historical romances set in Victorian England in which either the hero, heroine or both are PI's, and it is a theme that works well within the romantic suspense genre.
Evangeline is a classic Krentz heroine. She is independent, morally staunch, and determined to the point of bullheaded stubbornness. Best of all, she is as willing and capable as the hero of being a positive, protective warrior, which is demonstrated by her regularly defending herself, the hero, and helpless victims from the depredations of the villain.
In this story, as in all Krentz's novels, the heroine and hero are fascinatingly unique to the point of being eccentric--a tendency that is amplified in Krentz's paranormal novels by the addition of magical powers to the mix. The unconventional abilities and goals of Krentz's protagonists have inevitably led to isolation and loneliness, and in each other they experience for the first time real understanding, appreciation and acceptance. This is a huge reason why Krentz's romances are never just festivals of sexual chemistry. Instead, they always present a vital meeting of minds and spirits between the protagonists, making it possible for the reader to truly believe what all romance novels aim for (and many fail to achieve), that the protagonists are "soul mates" destined for each other.
I personally find Krentz's overt use of recurrent themes and plot structures to be an asset, not a liability. It makes her a dependably entertaining writer. She knows how to write romantic suspense, and she does it well, every time. In addition, her characters are always strong, and their blood relations and families of affiliation can be counted on to provide entertaining and emotionally satisfying interactions, whether they are acting as mentors, allies, or humorously subverting the protagonists with "friendly fire." Most of all, readers can count on Krentz for her skill as a writer. Her use of paranormal elements is logically consistent, and her command of language is smooth, clear, and never calls irritating attention to itself with gimmicky flourishes. In short, her writing gets out of the way and lets the story take center stage.
I rate this novel as follows:
Fantasy World-Building: 4
Romance Plot: 4
Mystery/Thriller Plot: 4