Friday, January 2, 2015

Nero's Fiddle by A.W. Exley

The Basics:
Nero's Fiddle by A.W. Exley
Curiosity Quills
Book Three in the Artifact Hunters series
Steampunk Romance
Published October 9, 2014
Source: Purchased an e-copy
Amazon Goodreads

** The first two books in this series, Nefertiti's Heart and Hatshepsut's Collar are priced at 99 cents until January 3rd, and the short story The Unicorn's Tail is free. Check them out *now*!

Why I picked up this book:

I'm a *huge* fan 
of the first two books, and had to know what happened next for Cara and Nate.

One death by spontaneous human combustion is a rare act of God. 
Two... is surely a freakish coincidence. 
Three... well, that's starting to look deliberate.

Cara has a new role as Queen Victoria's artifact hunter, she's adapting to married life and living in a country manor that more closely resembles a mausoleum.

In London, Inspector Fraser investigates a series of strange deaths by divine fire - except he doesn't believe in coincidences. Despite himself, he enlists Cara's help to identify what artifact could cause such a hideous death while his desire to bring her husband to justice burns unabated.

Someone's intent on making sure a decades old secret stays hidden and Cara must figure out who is responsible before this case consumes her family and rocks the entire realm to its foundations.

My thoughts:

There was something completely compelling about the first two books in the Artifact Hunter series. I was enthralled by Cara and Nate's journey, by the mysteries around the artifacts themselves and I looked forward to reading the third book in the series.

For a number of reasons, I had to put off reading Nero's Fiddle until after Christmas. It's the book I read to break in my new Kindle Paperwhite on (yay Christmas present!).  

I was so glad to come back to Cara and Nate. I've read a lot more steampunk in the last year, so I've got new expectations for the genre, but I knew that this book would easily live up to them.

Nero's Fiddle had a lot of the elements that I loved from the earlier books in the series. Most prominently, we have a very strong murder mystery with Cara again mixed into the thick of it. I thought this unfolded pretty well. There were enough bits and bobs to keep me guessing and intrigued. I liked that Fraser and Cara come at the mystery from different angles, playing to their own strengths.

I did find the travel back and forth across the landscape a bit more jarring this time around. I made the conscious decision to trust that the book's timeline made sense though there was a specific scene when Cara is addressing a problem of Amy's that I had a hard time fitting into my notion of how the days and nights were unfolding.

Compared to the previous two books, the romance was, I think, weaker in Nero's Fiddle. Cara and Nate are figuring out how they'll make a life together, which makes complete sense. They're remarkably mature about the process, so perhaps there's a spark of tension missing for me? Perhaps it's simply that there are fewer opportunities for intimacy (though there are lots of fade-to-black sexy times and the bond between Cara and Nate is frequently referenced), and now that these two have settled together, there's less pressure for their romance to help carry the story? Whatever it was, I was a bit disappointed by this component, and overall I think the book lacked that certain zing of magic that really got to me in the first two books. A secondary romance receives only brief mention as I believe it was the focus of a novella - The Unicorn's Tale

One of the strengths of Nero's Fiddle is the attention paid to characters *other than* Cara and Nate. I loved all the details we learn about Inspector Fraser's life. He's so unabashedly broken and imperfect and I would adore a series of short stories or novella-length tales about his life and investigations apart from Cara and Nate.

Nero's Fiddle also introduces the Curator, a creepy gentleman who I imagine will figure quite prominently in the fourth (and final) book in the series, Moseh's Staff. This guy seems like an excellent villain to me - though wouldn't it be delightful if he turns out to be not such a bad guy after all? Whatever the case, it seems he has some information Cara would like and while all her instincts scream at her to stay away, Cara's curiosity is what initially started her on the path to artifact hunting....

There's also some great flashbacks to Nell and Nessy's youths. I appreciated these so much as they made these two more than simply the amusing grandmother characters that seem so popular in certain light-hearted mystery novels. Learning about their youthful heartaches, triumphs and trials really elevated their characters and underscored them as role models for Cara.

Bottom line:

While I didn't find Nero's Fiddle quite as charismatic as Nefertiti's Heart or Hatshepsut's Collar, I did enjoy it quite a bit. It's a delightful steampunk tale with a fast pace and a solid mystery to engage the reader. I think it did a good job of building on the series and delivers some tantalizing hints about what's to come in the final installment of the Artifact Hunters.

4 stars
For fans of steampunk, mysteries, A. W. Exley

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