Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Review: What Angels Fear by C.S. Harris

What Angels Fear (Sebastian St. Cyr Mysteries #1)
Publisher: Penguin
ISBN: 978-0-451-21971-8

About the book:

It's 1811, and the threat of revolution haunts the upper classes of King George III's England. Then a beautiful young woman is found raped and savagely murdered on the altar steps of an ancient church near Westminster Abbey. A dueling pistol discovered at the scene and the damning testimony of a witness both point to one man, Sebastian St. Cyr, Viscount Devlin, a brilliant young nobleman shattered by his experience in the Napoleonic Wars.

Now a fugitive running for his life, Sebastian calls upon his skill as an agent during the war to catch the killer and prove his own innocence. In the process, he accumulates a band of unlikely allies, including the enigmatic beauty Kat Boleyn, who broke Sebastian's heart years ago. In Sebastian's world of intrigue and espionage, nothing is as it seems, ye the truth may hold the key to the future of the British monarchy, as well as Sebastian's own salvation...


Sebastian St. Cyr, the Viscount Devlin, returns from a stint in the Napoleonic Wars to a politically volatile England. With George III sinking further into madness and the establishment of a regency led by the pleasure-loving Prince of Wales on the horizon, fiercely opposing political forces jockey for position and power, with nothing less than the future of England and her position abroad at stake. When Rachel York, a popular actress, is found viciously raped and murdered on the altar steps of a church, the sensational nature of the crime raises the public’s ire, and pressure is on to bring the perpetrator to quick justice. Damning evidence points to St. Cyr’s guilt and with effects of the popular revolution across the channel still feared, and the peaceful transition of power to the regency at stake, the powers that be determine to make Devlin an example. With his guilt universally assumed, Sebastian runs, calling upon all the skill and intelligence that served him well as an undercover agent in the war to clear his name. But as he delves deeper into the mystery of Rachel York’s death, Sebastian uncovers a plot with political ramifications and ties to his own family beyond his wildest imaginings. The Viscount’s quest to exonerate himself transforms into a passion to give a voiceless victim justice, but with powerful forces arrayed against him, determined to bury the truth, can he survive long enough to bring the truth to light?
C.S. Harris’s Sebastian mysteries were described to me as “Mr. Darcy meets James Bond,” and anyone who knows me must realize that the promise of a character like that is a wholly irresistible prospect. I adore character-driven, multi-layered mysteries – I want to connect with the sleuth, and learn what makes them tick more than I care about the specifics of the individual cases. What Angels Fear is a promising introduction to the world of the deliciously intense, emotionally scarred, fiercely intelligent Sebastian St. Cyr. The Viscount Devlin is a fascinating hero – darkly brooding and enigmatic, Sebastian returns to England deeply scarred by what he witnessed in his military service, which leaves him with little tolerance for the peccadilloes of his fellow men. Gifted with preternaturally keen hearing and vision (along with unsettling yellow-gold eyes), and a quick wit and ready mind, Sebastian’s background in intelligence honed his natural instincts, with the result birthing a keen investigator equally capable at court or in London’s slums. I have an admitted weakness for angst-ridden heroes, and Sebastian enthralls me. He seems more self-absorbed than he actually is, the mask of emotional aloofness hiding a character capable of great feeling and strong convictions – and that reluctant hero quality is what kept me turning pages.
I loved the way Harris incorporated the history of the Regency and the Napoleonic Wars in her debut. This is so much more than a straightforward murder mystery, as Sebastian quickly discovers – Rachel’s death has far-reaching implications for both Sebastian and his country, laying bare secrets in his family and affecting the future political course of his nation. Harris’s narrative is tightly plotted, with a host of viable suspects who stood to gain from Rachel’s death, and surprise revelations and plot twists that will keep you guessing until the final chapters. She populates Sebastian’s world with memorable supporting characters that add color and flair to the storyline – I particularly enjoyed Sebastian’s friendship with Tom, the irrepressible and resourceful street urchin who “adopts” him while he’s a fugitive, and the heart-rending introduction of Kat Boleyn, the most unsuitable love of his life whose rejection drove him from the country years before. My one quibble with this novel is that the police procedures feel decades ahead of their time, which distracts somewhat from Harris’s otherwise absorbing, darkly seductive recreation of regency-era London. If you have the stomach to navigate Sebastian’s murky world (the descriptions of the crimes are stomach-turning, and there’s also some sex – tastefully dealt with), the payoff is an utterly absorbing lead and the dangerously fascinating world in which he lives. What Angels Fear is an absorbing tale, where the blackest impulses of humanity come face-to-face with a compelling dark angel – our reluctant hero and tenacious investigator, Sebastian St. Cyr. I cannot wait to see where Harris takes this most compelling character next!
About a fourth of the way through What Angels Fear, I became consumed with "casting" the role of Sebastian St. Cyr. At first I tried Daniel Craig in the role - I'd love to see him in a period piece of this type, and the tone he brought to his portrayal of James Bond would be a nearly perfect fit for St. Cyr.
However, I think I've settled on the perfect actor to bring Sebastian's intense, enigmatic character to life - Michael Fassbender! I realize I've had Fassbender on the brain for most of the last month thanks to his turn as Rochester in the latest Jane Eyre. I think Fassbender's capable of the intensity and repressed emotional vulnerability necessary to bring Sebastian to life. He's capable of this mesmerizing balance of strength and elegance necessary to the role - so someone needs to develop a film series ASAP. Just sayin'!

Any excuse to post a Fassbender picture on the blog. You're welcome. :)


Heidenkind said...

I'll read it some day...

Unknown said...

@heidenkind - I'll be VERY curious to hear your thoughts... :)

Anonymous said...

Just discovered the series this past spring and have become an addict as well as a book pusher! <:O)
You are the only one I found who cast an actor as Sebastian and I must say that you are absolutely spot on!
Are you on facebook? May I share this link on my FB wall?

Unknown said...

@Emms - Thanks so much for stopping by the blog! I need to get back in this series! And I'm so happy you approve of my casting choice -- I do have a personal FB, but I have no problem with people sharing blog links on their walls, so go right ahead! I consider it an honor. :)