The White Hornet: Sword and Steampunk (The Viper and the Urchin Book 5) by Celine Jeanjean
A city of snow and wind.
A logistical nightmare when running a mission…
…or an opportunity to explore new sartorial delights?
Rory has faced many challenges in her time, but none quite so frustrating as mastering the art of walking in a corset and bustle.
She has to pass herself off as a wealthy heiress to infiltrate the House of Bel, a mysterious and highly exclusive club for Airnian high society, and of course her true identity must remain hidden at all costs.
Luckily, Longinus is on hand to advise—that is, when he’s not busy discovering the giddy delights of winter outerwear and investigating the mystery of what happened to his family.
But they soon become aware of a mysterious presence—someone paying disturbingly close attention to their every move.
Who or what is the White Hornet? What is the link to Longinus’s family?
And will Rory and the gang be able to infiltrate the House of Bel before the White Hornet uncovers their true identities?
Please note: this book has a cliffhanger ending. The next instalment will be out early 2020 if you’d rather wait until you can read both books together.
Okay, there are two things I hate in books I’m reviewing. First is of course, the love triangle. But worse by far—a crime on the level of baby murder or taking phone calls in the theater—is the cliffhanger. And yet…author Celine Jeanjean did warn us first. She said we could just wait to read both parts until the second part comes out in a few months.
As if…I SO couldn’t wait.
This is a new book in one of my favorite series ever. More Rory the former urchin. More Longinus, the blood-averse assassin. More fantastic worldbuilding that hasn’t been seen on this scale since Gulliver set out on his travels.
And especially more hilarious interaction with Rory’s posse in classic 5-man-band style. Or as Adelma, the massive pirate captain (and doting mama), explains after telling Longinus that he is “…the pretty one of our team”—
Well, there’s always gotta be a pretty one on the team right? Me, I’m the muscle. Cruikshank likes to play the reasonable leader. Rory’s the thief, and Rafe’s the fighter.
The story begins this time as Longinus’ world is rocked on its axis. He has just had an experience so profound, he knows the rest of his life will be divided into Before and After. “Ladies and gentlemen, I give you… the Cape.” While Longinus rhapsodizes lyrically about the new addition to his wardrobe, we learn their team has been sent undercover to Bel Stadd, capital of the Airnian Empire, to investigate rumors that the Empire is considering an invasion of their little independent city-state of Damsport.
Everyone on the team is out of their comfort zone. Rory, the former homeless urchin, is posing as a wealthy heiress. All the things that formerly gave her an advantage as an urchin—her small size, quickness, and ability to blend into the background—are lost as she’s squeezed into corset, high heels, and court etiquette.
Longinus, the inconveniently blood-phobic assassin, is posing as her elegant clothes horse of a cousin—which seems like type-casting. But his real goal is to uncover the secrets of his past, even though he suspects that knowledge will destroy his carefully constructed alter ego as the Viper, infallible poison-dealing assassin.
Rafe, posing as a minor member of the nobility and Rory’s fiancé, would also seem absolutely typecast. But he shares the truth of his past with Rory. “In a way, hearing about his past made her feel closer to him. He was just a broken as she was.” Both he and Rory have seen women they cared about destroyed by their partners, and both are determined to avoid marriage at all costs.
Cruikshank, the best machinist in Damsport, is Rory’s direct opposite—tall, muscular, older, a thoughtful and meticulous planner who is nominally in charge of the mission. But her role as an itinerant machinist looking for work is a nonstarter as the factories take one look at her darker skin and refuse to consider her. And her confidence in her abilities is shaken as she takes in the sheer scope and scale of Airnian technology.
And finally there’s Adelma. The hard-drinking captain of a smuggler ship is a massively powerful rage-machine whose urge to kill the Airnians responsible for her husband’s death is only barely tempered by three loves: drinking, her young son, and her smuggling ship. With the last two unavailable, she just really wants to kill Airnians. Lots.
None of them are prepared for the bitter cold and arctic reality of life in Bel Stadd—the viciously amoral court politics, the life-and-death gap between the opulence of upper class life and brutal reality of working classes, and especially the mysteriously deadly secret power known as the White Hornet, said to orchestrate shadow control over the Court and the capital. And most of all, none of them are prepared for the shock of seeing the Airnians as…people.
Rory had grown up on stories that stoked hatred of all things Airnian, but now, looking at the people skating and laughing, that seemed crazy. Airnians were people, same as Damsians.
Nobody does a better job of world building than author Celine Jeanjean. As she shows us the many sides of life in the empire’s capital, her steampunk logic turns it into a three-dimensional reality. We can feel the cold, appreciate the Airnian response with elegant surroundings, understand the overriding desperation to stay warm enough.
Rory’s team continues to show us their flaws, insecurities, and self-doubt as well as intelligence, resourcefulness, humor, and wit. This is character development at its finest, the kind you can only reach by making it to book 5 in a series.
As our five spies peel back layers in the Airnian society, nothing is what it seems. Longinus isn’t sure whether his mother was a traitor and spy, or his father was a pickle-eating commoner. And he’s not sure which is worse.
As betrayal hits on every side, the group realizes their worst fears are just about to…
To be continued. (Soon, hopefully. Very soon.)
- Book Title: The White Hornet: Sword and Steampunk (The Viper and the Urchin Book 5)
- Author: Celine Jeanjean
- Genre: Sword and Steampunk/Fantasy
- Publisher: Amazon (8 Oct. 2019)
- Length: 403 pages