Narrated by Veida Dehmlow
Zoe Archer’s Nemesis, Unlimited novels are certainly NOT your run-of-the-mill Victorian-set romances. There’s nary a duke or an earl in sight and, even though one of the main characters is obviously from the upper echelons of society, this story is set firmly in the grimy, fog-shrouded, seedier side of London; the city where children are put to work, prostitution is rife, and most people just manage to keep body and soul together.
In my review of the second book in the series (Dangerous Seduction), I likened the members of Nemesis, Unlimited to a group of confidence tricksters. They’re the good-guys, however, helping to right wrongs and obtain justice for the little guys who would otherwise have no redress for the injustices they suffer at the hands of people far more powerful than themselves.
In this first book in the series, Nemesis engineers the escape of Jack Dalton from Dunmoor prison. Five years previously, Dalton was convicted of attempting to kill Lord Rockley, a feared member of society who counts peers and politicians among those whose secrets keep them firmly in his pocket. Dalton had been in Rockley’s employ – his sheer size and strength making him the ideal bodyguard – but on discovering Rockley had killed his (Jack’s) sister and knowing he would get no justice from the law, Jack turned on Rockley and attempted to secure it by his own means.
Learning that Rockley is in the vicinity of the prison, Jack escapes and manages to make his way to the inn at which Rockley is staying, only to be confronted instead by a young woman calmly pointing a gun at him. She is Eva Warrick – the men with her are Simon Addison-Shawe and Marco Black. Together they explain to Jack that they planted information about Rockley’s whereabouts in order to get Jack to break out of prison. They want his help to end Rockley’s career of extortion, murder, and embezzlement.
The story is fast paced and the author does a superb job in portraying the two faces of London; the one inhabited by the rich, and the city’s darker underbelly populated by whores, gangs, and street-fighters. Jack is very much a child of the streets, having been born to a whore and survived to adulthood by doing whatever he had to in order to stay fed and clothed. I really liked the fact that even though Jack’s past, as gradually revealed, was clearly no picnic, he makes no apologies and doesn’t ask for or expect sympathy. He’s a huge man, his body hewn by years of hard labour and, being no stranger to violence, at first has no patience with Nemesis’ plans to bring about Rockley’s ruin – all he wants is retribution for his sister’s murder. Gradually, however, he begins to see the merit in their plan, and the group begins to develop an uneasy trust in each other.
Eva is a very pragmatic and tightly controlled young woman who has dedicated herself to Nemesis’ ideal of getting justice for the poorest people in society. She’s clever, strong, determined – and sexually experienced – but has never felt anything like the pull she feels towards Jack. The chemistry between the pair is palpable, and Ms. Archer builds the sexual tension between them beautifully.
One of the things I enjoyed most about Sweet Revenge was watching Jack’s growing confidence and realisation that he has more to offer than muscle. He starts off lashing out at Simon, Marco, and Eva, partly through frustration and partly because he believes that he’s not in their league when it comes to intelligence. In fact, his self-deprecation is one of the most endearing qualities about this mountain of a man.
What didn’t work so well, however, was the narrator’s characterisation of Jack, which was really the only weak point in a story that was otherwise very well performed. I’ve listened to Veida Dehmlow a couple of times now, and have (for the most part) enjoyed her work. She has a smooth, mellifluous voice and her narrative is well-paced, subtly nuanced, and expressive. I was aware from my previous listening that she doesn’t have a particularly large range in terms of pitch and she doesn’t place her male voices very much lower than the female ones, which she performs in and around her normal register.
In the other books I’ve heard Ms. Dehmlow narrate, the lack of depth for her male voices, while not ideal, was less of a problem than it is here. I admit that when I realised she was to be the narrator of this story, I wondered immediately why Tantor had chosen a woman to narrate an audiobook in which almost all the main (and secondary) characters are men. But the biggest problem is this: Jack is a huge, hulking mountain of a man, yet at times his voice is almost indistinguishable from Eva’s! If it wasn’t for the fact that Ms. Dehmlow adopted a suitably lower-class accent (complete with dropped ‘h’s and glottal stops) for him, it would have been impossible to tell them apart at times. In fact, it’s only the accent that enables the listener to differentiate between Jack, Simon, and Marco most of the time, although Ms Dehmlow does give Simon a slightly “posher” edge than Marco.
I was also pleased to note the (almost complete) absence of jarring Americanisms (there was only one “sidewalk”!) and that the majority of the dialogue felt very naturalistic for the time at which the story is set. Ms. Dehmlow handles it all very well, although I admit to doing a mental double-take at hearing some of the cruder vocabulary uttered in her perfectly modulated tones. (It was almost like hearing the queen saying a naughty word!)
Sweet Revenge is a thoroughly entertaining and gripping story, and I’d certainly recommend it if you’re looking for something a bit different in an historical romance. I do have reservations about the narrator’s portrayal of the hero although at times, I found myself so caught up in the story that I was able to accept that the Jack in my ears didn’t fit the Jack in my mind’s eye and just go with the flow. If it wasn’t for the fact that the portrayal of the hero isn’t what I’d hoped for, this audio would have received at least an A- for the narration.
Breakdown of Grade – Narration: C+ and Book Content: A-
Unabridged. Length – 12 hours 40 minutes