Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Book Review: THE LADY HEIRESS (2020)


British independent science fiction and fantasy writer Chris Nuttall and I have agreed on another review swap, his new fantasy novel The Lady Heiress and new science fiction novel The Lion and the Unicorn for my steampunk military fantasy Battle for the Wastelands and its prequel novella "Son of Grendel." So let's return to his Zero Enigma fictional universe, a world of manners, magic, and backstabbing...




The Plot

Lucy Lamplighter, a member of a declining aristocratic family in the fantasy city of Shallot, graduates from her young ladies' boarding school to find herself in a bind. Her father had attempted to stop their family's collapse by engaging in increasingly reckless business gambles, most of which failed, and now House Lamplighter's fortunes are in free fall. Rather than taking what's left of the money and running, Lucy decides to restore the family's fortunes. She makes some risky moves that allow for the payment of some of the family's debts, but like her father soon finds herself playing with fire...

The Good

*Protagonist Lucy Lamplighter is an engaging and clever character whom I really like and whose fate I really care about. She's very well-handled, and how she went about restoring her declining family's fortunes wasn't what I expected. However, she does have character flaws and her decisions, both good and bad, proceed from these flaws. And through her actions we see the benefits and flaws of her boarding-school education--although it teaches her valuable skills, the inconsistent consequences for rule-breaking don't necessarily prepare one for the high-stakes world of aristocratic politics and crime.

*Because the reader cares about Lucy's adventures and ultimate fate, the book is a fast read. I think I finished it in two sessions on my apartment elliptical.

*The villain arrives much later in the story than I expected and they're an absolutely slimy, vile, disgusting person who is also very, very smart. Not going to go into a lot of detail for spoiler reasons, but this character too is very well-drawn. And the villain does a very good job using blackmail to draw characters into committing more and more heinous acts. Science fiction author David Brin illustrates how the process works here. Their decisions, both good and bad, ultimately stem from the character's own personality as well.

*I also liked some of the supporting characters, like wealthy commoner Gary Prestwick and Lucy's long-suffering Uncle Jalil who fears his niece is going down the same path as her father.

*Although this book is set in Chris's Zero Enigma universe, one doesn't need to have read the other books in the series to enjoy it. The main-series characters drop in now and then, but the characters in this story are small fish in this world's upper class who realistically wouldn't interact with them. And you get all the worldbuilding you need in this book, as seen through the eyes of a young woman who has to grow up too soon.

*Finally, Chris spent his money very well on the cover from artist Brad Fraunfelter. His cover is quite frankly awesome.

The Bad

*Some revelations about Lucy's father that explain the villain's actions could have been better foreshadowed. The reader knew he was getting desperate, but there's "making bad investments" and there's what ultimately gets revealed.

*Lucy's school rival Marlene could have been better developed, especially given some revelations the villain makes about her.

*Overall the book felt a bit short.

The Verdict

Some very good characterization of major characters, but the minor ones need some work. Definitely worth reading once, especially if you're already a fan of the Zero Enigma series. 8.0 out of 10.

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