Claire is settling into life as an Engineer for Count Von Zepplin and planning for marriage to Andrew
(or avoiding planning) though neither is going quite so ideally or quite so well as she would have hoped. But still, is she really willing to abandon her career, this opportunity and even the man she loves for the sake of a friend who, it has to be said, she doesn’t know that well
Gloria Astor-Merriweather has been kidnaped – but is Claire willing to throw everything away to get her back?
I love Gloria. Not so much her character (which is still very good) but the whole concept of her. Gloria Merriweather-Astor was introduced as a very opposite to Claire. While Claire was newly desperately impoverished. Claire was academic and scientific, Gloria was more interested and fashion, society et al. And Gloria is the daughter of her arch-enemy and the major antagonist in the series.
In any other book, Gloria would be evil. She would be the spiteful, vapid mean girl who we were supposed to hate and loathe from the very beginning. She could so easily have been a hollow demonised character.
But she isn’t – she’s clever and moral and capable. She has her own life and her own problems even though her context and experience is very different from Claire’s – and she’s a very loyal and caring friend who regrets deeply any idea that she may have failed Claire in the last book. Even more than her own freedom she worries that Claire may think she abandoned her - even if they’re not such close friends, it mattered to her that she was thought of hat way (of course, Claire, marvellously free of the girl-hate that is so annoyingly pervasive, doesn’t assume any such thing. Having experienced Gloria’s kindness she assumes far more kinder interpretations of her behaviour).
So, even though I risk sounding like a broken record, I have to repeat how excellent this series is with the female characters. Not just because they’re good and capable and interesting but because they’re also different. They have commonalities in different ways (Claire and Alice share an interest and talent for Engineering, Gloria and Claire attended the same school, Liz and Maggie are sisters) but they’re all still very different people.
The plot itself wasn’t especially unique – we have another rescue mission as our heroes ride to the rescue with cunning, cleverness, a whole lot of courage and daring and ingenuity and a great deal of determination. It’s not especially new, but it is great fun, well written, nicely paced and any outing with these characters will make me smile.
I’m more intrigued with where the story will go from here given the way the plot developed. We have a big confrontation with the big bad who has dogged the series for so long (that big bad was also surprisingly humanised) which will now put the series in a very different position going forward
There was also Claire’s confrontations with both her fiancé Andrew and her employer, the Count Von Zeppling (which I will come back to since there are elements there I don’t like a great deal) which have put Claire in an interesting position of questioning her priorities and where she actually wants to go in life and how she wants to live. Even while looking to the future with these elements, I liked the call back to the very early books, back when she was the Lady of Devices running her little rag-tag band of followers in a squat in the poor part of London. It was nice to be reminded of where Claire came from, what she has achieved and where everyone else still is.
There was also a nice look at Tigg who, in many ways, has come at least as far as Claire. He has grown, he has a future, a plan and a life and, like Claire, also has a nice look into his past in the form of his estranged father. It’s a nice look at Tigg’s character, his development and his own opinions, especialy with scenes from his own point of view, but I do think the references to his father’s skin colour (Tigg’s father is Black and his mother White) overly emphasised how dark and scary he was.