This book took me a while to pick up. I had read the previous in the Darkest London series and was holding a serious grudge against the hero. Though that eventually wore off, Winterblaze took the series into turns that I am not sure I liked, though in the end I did enjoy seeing the leads in the installment find their way to happily ever after.
Winston and Poppy Lane had an ideal marriage. In Victorian England, they are firmly in the middle class – he is a police detective with Scotland Yard and she owns a small bookstore. As Poppy’s sisters, who have supernatural powers, get married to supernatural creatures, it is only a matter of time before Winston learns the secret that Poppy had been keeping. Not only does she have supernatural powers, she is the head of an organization that controls supernatural issues and is in charge of keeping that world from the ordinary people of London. Discovering this was a complete betrayal to Winston and it destroys the perfect marriage they once had. In fact, Winston up and leaves Poppy without letting her have a word of explanation (thus the grudge that I was holding.)
When Poppy learns that her worst enemy, the mysterious demon Isley, is out to hurt her by destroying Winston, she knows that she is the one that needs to protect her erstwhile husband. Though an awkward reunion, the love the two share is still strong. Only by rebuilding the trust they once had can they two hope to reunite fully. But Isley isn’t just out to destroy Winston. He has bigger fish to fry and as his secret machinations come to light, Winston and Poppy learn that Poppy may not be the only one who destroyed the relationship. Winston may have done something even more unforgivable and opened the door for Isley to do even more damage than the two could ever overcome… or forgive.
As for Poppy and Winston, once I got over my anger at Winston, I liked their story. It is about a healing rather than falling in love. While we see them in the current situation, we also get the flashbacks of how their romance began and where it built from. One thing seemed clear from the beginning – these two were meant to be and I liked that. They are kindred souls and they complement each other perfectly. The story grapples with falling in love when one already knows every intimate detail of someone. Winston and Poppy knew everything from the time it took to brush their teeth to the depths of despair it would take to make Win eat a mushroom – yet their mutual betrayal made them virtual strangers with familiar faces. In some ways, this was more tormenting and angst-filled than the more typical tortured hero and it was wonderful to see Callihan weave these two through the issues.
One thing that disturbed me is the turn this series has taken into a Steampunk type series. Not that I have anything against that genre, it just seems out of place with the way that the series began. The secret organization that Poppy runs – the SOS, the GIMs – or Ghosts in the Machine, the gadgets and gizmos that are cropping up throughout the story, while all interesting, take a complete departure from the place where the series began with the first book, Firelight. Creating this world has taken over a lot of the story and taken away from the romance. In fact, other than the connection between Poppy and the heroine of Firelight (they are sisters), there is really no connection between this book and that one. In creating the steampunk world, a lot of the charm and beauty that began the series is fading in favor of a greater story arc that isn’t anywhere near as captivating as the romance was.
Even if you don’t like the direction the greater story arc is taking, the story of Winston and Poppy has been building and it is nice to see their background and how they got together. While I don’t think that this book has the same romantic pull as the first in the series, if you enjoy historical romances with a paranormal/steampunk twist, then this may be the series for you!