I look forward to spring, for besides bringing May flowers it also brings the latest Amanda Quick novel. I particularly looked forward to Second Sight as it begins a new series and the cover blurb made it sound especially intriguing. I also loved the idea of a photographer heroine in the late Victorian Age. Alas, this is a superficial read, and average at best.
Venetia Milton is hired to photograph rarities at Arcane House and as the book opens, she seduces her boss, Mr. Gabriel Jones. Venetia, a spinster well on the shelf, had decided she wanted to experience passion at least once in her life and Mr. Jones was the first man who had ever made her feel bold enough to try to have an affair. I was amazed that Quick was able to establish enough connection between the pair in a few short pages so that the early introduction of sex was acceptable and believable for me. Usually early sex is a turn off, but here it worked well.
The seduction goes well as Gabriel is a very willing partner, but shortly after their tryst Venetia spots intruders on the grounds. Gabriel rushes her out a secret exit, but she leaves behind her camera and other possessions. He briefly wonders how she saw the intruders in the dark and she wonders the same about him, but in the emergency there is no time to discuss their skills.
Venetia returns home and decides to set up herself and her family with a photography studio in London using the money she earned from the Arcane Society assignment. Her aunt and siblings depend on Venetia’s ability to make a living. It is decided that she should become a widow – just as Venetia reads in the paper of the death of Gabriel and the burning of Arcane house. On a whim as a memorial to Gabriel, she renames herself Mrs. Gabriel Jones and creates a backstory about her husband having fallen over a cliff when they were on a honeymoon trip to America.
Imagine the surprise of both Venetia and the ton when Mr. Jones arrives alive and well on her doorstep, with an amusing story of how he survived his “fall”. The two then begin an investigation into who is after the relics of Arcane house – everywhere they look, dead bodies seem to follow. The Arcane Society turns out to be a group of men who for over 200 years have been blessed or cursed with extra sensory skills and have studied all available information on these skills scientifically. Gabriel is a hunter and he can not only see in the dark, but becomes much like a jungle cat when he is on the hunt. He worries someday he may lose all veneer of civilization and truly turn into a beast.
Venetia for her part possesses second sight, an ability to squint and see people’s auras and true nature. During a party Venetia sees the aura of a murderer as he is leaving the scene of the crime and realizes it is the same man who was hiding in the woods outside Arcane house.
Gabriel and Venetia are both very likable characters and I especially liked her independence and determination to forge a life for herself and her family in an age not welcoming of women in business. The information on the emerging field of photography was well presented and interesting and the plot moved easily. I especially liked Gabriel’s taking Venetia’s young brother under his wing; fatherhood has always been an important theme in this author’s books and the importance of a young boy having a male role model is well presented here.
So, what is the problem that kept this book from being more than average? Part of the problem is that Quick just keeps stacking on strangeness, until the whole lost believability. First, one has to accept the character’s psychic skills, which was pretty easy for me. But the deal breaker was when Gabriel and Venetia go to The Janus Club, with Venetia dressed as a man! It turns out all of the members are women dressed as men and to top that off, one of the recurring characters always appears in London society as a man. This was extraneous to the plot and only served to make the goings-on all the more odd.
This sense of oddness, though, wasn’t the book’s only flaw. What was lacking here was heart; when I finished reading the book, I never felt as though I’d gone below the surface as far as these characters – Gabriel in particular. I never felt his pain over his worries about becoming a beast. And while Venetia was much better drawn, she too was a superficial heroine, at least in comparison with other, better books by this author. And speaking of other, better books by the author, while there’s a comforting sameness about her style and character types, this was too much the same.
Amanda Quick aka Jayne Ann Krentz is one of the few authors I buy in hardback, but Second Sight disappointed on too many levels. I look forward to less oddity and more characterization in the next book of this series.