I obviously need to start reading the descriptions of books before I buy them, because for some reason I thought this was a paranormal romance. A Victorian-era paranormal romance, to be sure, but I thought something paranormal would be involved. That said, when I realized it wasn't (very quickly) I wasn't disappointed. I love me a historical romance, so I dove right in. Novak's premise was interesting, especially because it didn't seem to involve the well-born ton characters that historical romances so often feature, and I defintely have never read a historical romance (or any sort of romance) that featured body-snatching as a plot point. This seemed to have a lot going for it. However, in the end I was vastly disappointed.
Why was I so disappointed with this? Well, in a nutshell, I was bored. There are a lot of plot lines in this book, none of which are particularly hard to follow by themselves or in conjunction, but none of which were particularly interesting, either. There's the main storyline, in which our heroine, Abby, tries to buy a corpse for her father's medical school from some resurrectionists, ends up losing a lot of money, tries to get it back, and ends up kidnapped by the handsomest man of the lot, Max. There's the plot where Max has joined the bodysnatching gang in order to find his missing sister, Madeleine, who was last seen in the company of the gang's leader. In yet another plot, more bodies start turning up (and people go missing) and it's a question of whether they died naturally, ran off, or were (gasp!) murdered. And then there were a few other subplots, most of which I can't remember because they just weren't interesting.
The characters were all very flat and one-dimensional, and I didn't really empathize with any of them. Absolutely every single one of them was boring. I didn't find Abby believable as a character, either; all of her actions seemed extremely unlikely for a young woman from her situation. I didn't find it likely that she would track down grave robbers; I didn't find it likely that she would know words like cock (she lived at a medical college; her knowing the physiological terms wouldn't surprise me, but I found the slang she used very out of character); and I didn't think it likely that such a smart young woman would dive headfirst into such stupid situations without thinking. Some would probably try to say that this was because of her feelings for Max; I say that she did this even beforehand, and that if you're going to make your character out as smart enough to become a surgeon, if only the time's gender rolls allowed, you have to remember that she's a smart character and not have every ounce of her intelligence vanish the second someone with nice eyes shows up. Believe it or not, women are capable of thinking even when emotions are involved, though Novak apparently feels differently.
Max and Abby's relationship was a dazzling display of Stockholm Syndrome that played out over the space of about three days and was a constant chain of annoyances. Had there been more involvement of the obstacles between them (I would have loved to have seen Max's fiancee as a real character; that would have added a lot of dimension, or maybe some example of why Max had to marry her) it might have led to some emotional involvement from my end, but as it was, I just didn't care. Madeleine's mystery is literally impossible to solve, which is annoying; a good mystery is one that you can't figure out, but the answer is revealed, you look back and go, "Of course!" This wasn't like that. At the end, I was left going, "That's it? Really?" The build-up takes forever and the climax wasn't very climactic at all, but seemed more like an after-thought. And then Max and Madeleine suddenly have a relationship when before they had nothing to do with each other? I'm not buying it.
I think I lot of the reason this was so boring was the writing style. Novak's writing style just doesn't work for a juicy historical romance. Her sex scenes were bland (never a good thing) and overall there was just a lot of telling and not showing (such a cliched expression, but that's how it was) that left me disconnected from the world she created. I can typically take down a good historical romance in less than six straight hours, exact time depending on page length; I rarely need more than one sitting to finish a good one. But despite starting this on a weekend with plenty of time, I spent more than a week chipping away at this one, hoping it would get better with each chapter. It never did. The book was far longer than it needed to be, with the "action" climax taking place way before the "emotional" climax and not much to keep the story moving in between. When I found that this book actually ends at 87% on the Kindle (the rest is a preview of another book), I found myself praising the heavens, because I could not have taken another 13% of this.
Novak's clever titles and beautiful covers are very intriguing, but after this book, I'd be very leery of picking up any of her other books.
1.5 stars out of 5.