A Conspiracy in Belgravia (Lady Sherlock #2) by Sherry Thomas

This title may be purchased from Amazon

The game is afoot as Charlotte Holmes returns in the atmospheric second novel in USA Today bestseller Sherry Thomas’s Victorian-set Lady Sherlock series.

Being shunned by Society gives Charlotte Holmes the time and freedom to put her extraordinary powers of deduction to good use. As “Sherlock Holmes, consulting detective,” aided by the capable Mrs. Watson, she’s had great success helping with all manner of inquiries, but she’s not prepared for the new client who arrives at her Upper Baker Street office.

Lady Ingram, wife of Charlotte’s dear friend and benefactor, wants Sherlock Holmes to find her first love, who failed to show up at their annual rendezvous. Matters of loyalty and discretion aside, the case becomes even more personal for Charlotte as the missing man is none other than Myron Finch, her illegitimate half brother.

In the meanwhile, Charlotte wrestles with a surprising proposal of marriage, a mysterious stranger woos her sister Livia, and an unidentified body surfaces where least expected. Charlotte’s investigative prowess is challenged as never before: Can she find her brother in time—or will he, too, end up as a nameless corpse somewhere in the belly of London?

Rating: A

Reviewing mysteries is always a challenge as anyone who’s tried it will know.  And with one of this calibre, it’s even more difficult, because I want to tell you just how GOOD this book is, but I can’t tell you too much for fear of giving too much away and spoiling your enjoyment.  I could just say a) “Sherry Thomas is a genius – go buy this book!”, or b) “Don’t waste time here – go buy this book!”,   but that isn’t much of a review, so I will attempt – somehow – to do justice to this terrific story and author… and will no doubt fail miserably, at which juncture you should simply heed the advice given in points a) and b).

Note: I think it would be possible to enjoy this as a standalone, but I really would recommend reading A Study in Scarlet Women first. There are spoilers for that book in this review.

A Conspiracy in Belgravia picks up on the day after the events that concluded the previous book.  Charlotte Holmes, ably assisted by her closest friend, Lord Ingram Ashburton, and Inspector Treadles of Scotland Yard, has solved the Sackville murder case and learned of the existence of an infamous criminal mastermind by the name of Moriarty.  In addition, Charlotte worked out that that Lord Ingram – Ash to his friends – had pulled strings behind the scenes in order to make sure she wasn’t left alone on the streets after she ran from her father’s house, and orchestrated her meeting with the army widow and former actress with whom Charlotte now resides, Mrs. John Watson.  Charlotte doesn’t like being beholden to Ash, especially not as their friendship, while generally strong, has been sometimes strained since his ill-advised marriage six years earlier.

Charlotte and Mrs. Watson have formed a working partnership as investigators, using the identity of Sherlock Holmes as a front for their operation.  Holmes suffers from a debilitating illness, so clients meet with his ‘sister’ – Charlotte – while the detective listens to the conversation from the next room.  It’s with some surprise that Charlotte identifies their latest prospective client, Mrs. Finch, as Lady Ingram, Ash’s wife.  Mrs Watson is concerned about accepting the lady as a client given their friendship with her husband, but Charlotte believes her need must be very pressing if it has driven her to seek Holmes’ help, and agrees to the meeting – although as Charlotte cannot afford to be recognised, the part of Sherlock’s sister will be taken by Mrs. Watson’s niece, Penelope Redmayne.  ‘Mrs. Finch’ explains that she is seeking information regarding the man she fell in love with before she married Lord Ingram, a young man deemed unsuitable by her parents, whose financial situation demanded she marry someone wealthy. While she and her erstwhile love agreed not to meet or write to each other once she was married, they planned a yearly assignation – on the Sunday before his birthday, they would both take a walk past the Albert Memorial at 3 pm, so they could each see that the other was alive and well. This year, however, her sweetheart did not keep the appointment, and she wants Sherlock Holmes to find out why. Penelope asks Lady Ingram for as many details as she can provide, but when she identifies the man in question as Myron Finch, Charlotte is stunned. Myron Finch is her illegitimate half-brother.

While Charlotte and Mrs. Watson set about looking into the disappearance of Mr. Finch, Charlotte is also mulling over the proposal of marriage she has received – the second one, in fact – from Lord Bancroft Ashburton, Lord Ingram’s older brother. Charlotte is fully cognizant of the benefits marriage to him would bring. It would rehabilitate her – to an extent – in the eyes of society and would soften her father’s stance towards her; she could care for her sister, Bernadette (who has some sort of mental disability) and could openly spend time with her other sister, Livia and generally return to the life to which she had been born. But even though Bancroft recognises and respects Charlotte’s keen intellect, he clearly expects her to discontinue her investigations as Sherlock Holmes, and she’s not sure that’s something she’s willing to give up.

As an inducement, Bancroft gifts Charlotte with a set of puzzles, which includes a message encoded using a Vignère cipher, a fiendishly difficult code that takes Charlotte some days to decipher. Once decoded, the message leads her to an address in Hounslow, North West of London, where she and Lord Ingram unexpectedly encounter Inspector Treadles. A man has been murdered – and appears to have named his killer before he died. Could he perhaps be the missing Mr. Finch? Or could he somehow be tied to Finch’s disappearance? Or, worse still, are Finch and the murder victim somehow tied to the mysterious Moriarty, a name which seems to inspire fear in those who know it, and someone of whom even the unflappable Bancroft seems to be wary?

Well… I’m not saying. As is clear, though, there’s a lot going on in this book, and I admit that I sometimes had to refer to the numerous highlights I’d made on my Kindle to refresh my memory about something, but for the most part, the story rattles along famously as Sherry Thomas skillfully pulls the disparate mystery threads together and then unravels them, bringing events to a climax I most certainly didn’t see coming. Just as impressive as her plotting is the way in which she continues to explore and develop her characters and the relationships between them, building on what we know of them from the previous book and rounding them out even more. We don’t see as much of Treadles in this story, but it’s clear that he’s been upset by the discovery of the deceit practiced by his good friend Lord Ingram (over Holmes’ true identity) and isn’t sure what to make of Charlotte any longer. There’s a romance in the offing for Livia, who is charmed by a mysterious young man who seems to see and appreciate her for who she is and doesn’t talk down to her or dismiss her interests; and we get to know a little more of the circumstances which led to Ash’s marriage to a society beauty he later learned had married him only for his money.

Anyone with any knowledge of this author’s work will already know that her work is highly creative and imaginative; she fashions strong, well-developed and engaging characters, crafts complex interweaving plots, and her historical romances are among the best in the genre. I should, however, warn anyone hoping for romantic developments between Charlotte and Ash that things between them don’t progress a great deal (if at all). The author sheds more light on Ash’s feelings towards Charlotte, showing he knows her better than anyone (and there’s a nice touch at the end where Charlotte both acknowledges this and admits she’s glad it’s Ash who knows her so well) and Charlotte… well, she doesn’t necessarily wish Ash had married her, she would just prefer he hadn’t married at all. She’s someone who relies on observation and logic and doesn’t have room for sentiment; yet in the face of all the logical reasons she should marry Bancroft, a small part of her can’t ignore the fact that she doesn’t find him attractive while his brother… is a different matter entirely.

There’s so much more to A Conspiracy in Belgravia than I can possibly say here. The characters, the relationships, the mystery … all are richly detailed and superbly constructed, making this a truly compelling, un-put-downable read. I stand by my original points a) and b). Just go and buy it.

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In Celebration of June Is Audiobook Month

To mark June is Audiobook Month, I and my fellow AudioGals have been choosing some of our favourite audiobooks in our favourite genres, and this week it was my turn to choose my Top Five Historical Romance audios. Which wasn’t easy. Last week saw Kaetrin picking her Top Five Contemporary Romances, and the week before that, BJ chose her Top Five Urban Fantasy/Paranormal listens. There’s still time to enter the giveaway for earbuds and downloads – head over to AudioGals and scroll down to the bottom of this week’s post for details.

In the meantime… my Top Five.

I might as well say this right now. I am utterly HOPELESS at choosing favourites. The minute anyone says to me “what’s your favourite (something)?” my mind goes completely blank and I struggle to think of ANYthing, let alone the ones I’d rate above all others. Then after the initial panic has subsided, I can think of too many. But because, when it comes to audiobooks, I’m someone who always places the narrator ahead of the author in terms of importance when it comes to choosing the ones I want to listen to (sorry, authors!), choosing five audiobooks I think would be a good introduction to historical romance in audio for someone who wants to take the plunge but doesn’t know where to start didn’t prove too difficult. My choices are therefore selected by narrator first; and as such, feature my “Fab Four” – four narrators I would quite happily listen to if they were reading the phone book.

You can read the rest of my list at AudioGals.

My Best Books of 2016 – at All About Romance

best-of-2016-covers

Over the past week or so All About Romance has been publishing the team’s lists of their Top Ten books read in 2016. The vast majority of these are books published in 2016, although a few are books published previously that have been read this year.

All my choices are 2016 titles, and as usual, it was a tough list to compile. I’ve had a good reading year (I’ll be taking a look at my stats at some point and posting about those) and at AAR, have awarded a good number of B Grades and up, indicating that I read many more books I enjoyed than books I didn’t, which I count a definite plus.

Pinning it down to ten books was TOUGH, as was picking an outright “book of the year”, because this year (unlike last), that moniker could have been applied to practically every book on my list. But being I’m a bit of an angst-bunny, I went for the book that ripped out my heart and stomped on it a few times, AND which I’d been most eagerly anticipating.  Click on the link and all will be revealed!

My Best of 2016

A Study in Scarlet Women (Lady Sherlock #1) by Sherry Thomas (audiobook) – Narrated by Kate Reading

a-study-in-scarlet-women-audio

This title may be downloaded from Audible.

With her inquisitive mind, Charlotte Holmes has never felt comfortable with the demureness expected of the fairer sex in upper-class society. But even she never thought that she would become a social pariah, an outcast fending for herself on the mean streets of London.

When the city is struck by a trio of unexpected deaths and suspicion falls on her sister and her father, Charlotte is desperate to find the true culprits and clear the family name. She’ll have help from friends new and old, but in the end, it will be up to Charlotte, under the assumed name Sherlock Holmes, to challenge society’s expectations and match wits against an unseen mastermind.

Rating: Narration – A; Content – A

Sherry Thomas kicks off her new Lady Sherlock series of historical mysteries in fine style with A Study in Scarlet Women. In it, she introduces listeners to the main players in a way that is engaging and extremely effective while also setting up and resolving an intriguing, self-contained mystery that paves the way for what look set to be interesting developments in future stories.

Charlotte Holmes, the youngest of the four daughters of Lord and Lady Holmes is… different. She never spoke much as a child, preferring to speak only when she had something of importance to say, and she never quite understood the need to behave as other people did. As she grew to adulthood, she began to employ learned behaviours when her own instincts didn’t tell her the right thing to say or do, recognising the need for at least the appearance of fitting in if she was going to be able to achieve her ambitions.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals

A Study in Scarlet Women (Lady Sherlock #1) by Sherry Thomas

a-study-in-scarlet-women

This title may be purchased from Amazon.

With her inquisitive mind, Charlotte Holmes has never felt comfortable with the demureness expected of the fairer sex in upper class society. But even she never thought that she would become a social pariah, an outcast fending for herself on the mean streets of London.

When the city is struck by a trio of unexpected deaths and suspicion falls on her sister and her father, Charlotte is desperate to find the true culprits and clear the family name. She’ll have help from friends new and old—a kind-hearted widow, a police inspector, and a man who has long loved her. But in the end, it will be up to Charlotte, under the assumed name Sherlock Holmes, to challenge society’s expectations and match wits against an unseen mastermind.

Rating: A-

I admit that when I heard that Sherry Thomas, one of my favourite and without doubt one of the finest authors of Historical Romance currently writing was going to be shifting genres and embarking on a series of Historical Mysteries, my first thought was to go and curl up in the corner with a box of Kleenex. That was a fairly fleeting thought, however, as I know I’d probably read Ms. Thomas’ shopping lists; and given that I adored her YAElementals Trilogy, I knew, deep down, that she would ace whatever she turned her hand to.  And she has.  A Study in Scarlet Women, the first book in her new Lady Sherlock series is a terrific read; well-plotted, brilliantly characterised and retaining enough of the characteristics of Conan Doyle’s original to be recognisable while adding more layers and facets to her protagonist to make her a completely plausible woman of her time.

Charlotte Holmes, youngest of four sisters, has always been a little… odd.  As a child, she rarely spoke unless she had something to say, she liked her own company and her ability to observe and reach startlingly accurate conclusions was somewhat unnerving.  Her father found her entertaining –

Charlotte was his pet – he was vastly amused by her combination of great intelligence, great oddity and great silence

– while her domineering mother despaired of her ever becoming all that a proper young lady should be.  As Charlotte grew older, she began to realise that she was different and understand what it was that set her apart from others, so she began to employ learned behaviours when they didn’t come naturally to her, such as comforting her sister Olivia (Livia) – to whom she is closest – when she was upset or depressed, and making the effort to turn herself into the fashion plate her mother wanted her to be.  On the outside, Charlotte is the ideal of Victorian womanhood – pretty, petite and curvaceous with blonde ringlets, big blue eyes and charming dimples.  The inside, however, is another matter entirely:

– the Good Lord went to ridiculous lengths to make sure that one of the finest minds in existence was housed in a body least likely to be suspected of it.

Charlotte made her intention never to marry quite clear to her father when she told him that she wanted to pursue a career as headmistress of a girls’ school.  Naturally, he said she was too young to make such a decision and that she should wait a few years, but Charlotte has never wavered from that choice.  As the story begins, however, Sir Henry Holmes’ not unexpected reneging on his promise to fund Charlotte’s training forces her to take drastic measures, and she purposely gets herself ruined by a married man (because he could not be forced to marry her to restore her reputation), as a way of rebelling and of making sure she can’t be married off to an eligible parti.  Unfortunately, however, her choice of swain was not her best decision;  in a drunken stupor the previous evening, he disclosed his plans to his wife, ensuring that she and her mother interrupt his tryst with Charlotte at a sensitive moment.  Now, Charlotte is not only ruined for marriage, she is publicly disgraced, at the centre of a huge scandal and facing the prospect of spending the rest of her life shut away in obscurity in the country.

That is absolutely NOT part of Charlotte’s plan, so she runs away, secure in the knowledge that she will be able to secure employment as a secretary or typist.  Her only real regret is leaving behind her sister, Livia, who is emotionally fragile and prone to depression, a young woman who dislikes society yet fears being alone, and who is, apart from one other, the only person Charlotte really relates to strongly and cares for.

Charlotte may be brilliant, but she is still a woman and has to contend with the social conventions that are so strictly applied to her sex.  When the lady running the boarding house at which she is staying discovers Charlotte’s true identity (she had registered under a false name) she is asked to leave, and with no letters of reference or qualifications, she has been unable to secure employment.  Her meagre funds are running out and she is faced with the prospect of living on the streets or having to go back home; and she is at a low ebb when she encounters an older, flamboyant lady with whom she feels an almost instant connection. This is, of course, Mrs. John Watson, a former actress and the widow of an army officer who perished in Afghanistan some years earlier.

That’s Charlotte and her story so far, but while all this is going on, other characters are being introduced and plotlines laid.  Not long after Charlotte’s disgrace, the mother of her lover is found dead, and because Livia had publicly accused the woman of ruining her sister, suspicion falls upon her.  Then there is the matter of the sudden death of Lady Amelia Drummond, the lady to whom Sir Henry had been engaged before he married his wife and with whom Sir Henry had quarrelled on the evening before her demise.  Add in the recent death of Mr Harrington Sackville of Devon…  the game is afoot and the famous, reclusive detective Sherlock Holmes is on the case.  But how effective can he be when it seems he has taken to his bed with a serious illness and can be consulted only via his sister?

Inspector Treadles (*grin*) of Scotland Yard is rather disappointed at this news, as he has had some experience of working with Holmes in the past – not in person, but through his friend, renowned archaeologist Lord Ingram Ashburton – and had hoped do so again.  But Lord Ingram is not sanguine about Holmes’ recovery, although he does agree to seek his help on Treadles’ behalf after Holmes declares that the deaths of Lady Amelia, Mr Sackville and Lady Shrewsbury are related.

And this brings me to one big difference between the original Sherlock and this new female incarnation of him.  While Holmes – the male version – is asexual, Charlotte is not.  In fact, it’s very clear from the beginning of the book that she and Lord Ingram are in love, and probably have been since they were children.

Some people never meet the right person in life. They, on the other hand, met when they were too young to realize what they had found in each other. And when they did at last see the light, it was too late.

For he is married – very unhappily – and far too honourable to do what many men in his position would have done and seek pleasure and companionship elsewhere.  In fact, he and Charlotte don’t even meet face-to-face until about half-way through the book, but when they do, the chemistry between them is explosive.  Obviously, as this novel is predominantly a mystery, any romantic aspects take a back seat, but when an author writes two characters with such a strong, deep connection, it’s impossible not to want the relationship to go somewhere and to wonder how Ms. Thomas is going to surmount the obvious obstacles she has thrown in its path.

A Study in Scarlet Women is a terrific way to kick off this new series.  The pacing is excellent, the characters are superbly drawn and the mystery is intriguing and suitably complex without being completely impenetrable; but the real highlight is the way Ms. Thomas so brilliantly introduces her main characters throughout the first half of the story without subjecting the reader to info-dumps and improbable coincidences. It’s a masterclass in How To Do It Right.  The whole thing evolves organically, from the descriptions of Charlotte’s obviously dysfunctional family and the far-reaching effects of their parents’ strained marriage on her and her sisters, to the gradual deepening of the mystery and its eventual solution.  My only criticism – which isn’t really a criticism, as it didn’t spoil my enjoyment of the book – is that much of the leg-work regarding the mystery is done by Inspector Lestrade  Treadles and his team, so Charlotte is, of necessity, ‘off screen’.  That said, it’s absolutely correct given that she’s a woman and couldn’t have taken part in a police investigation, even if Treadles had known her identity. A lesser author would probably have had her in the thick of it, but Sherry Thomas is someone who takes things like historical accuracy seriously and who is more than good enough at what she does to be able to have her heroine observing the conventions of the day even as she pursues her unconventional career.  The reason for the A- and not a straight A is because of the convenience of the fact that two of Charlotte’s immediate family are in the frame for the murders – otherwise, I’ve no complaints.

The novel ends with some tantalising glimpses of what might be to come, with hints at some of the less orthodox occupations of an aristocratic archaeologist, the establishment of a possible arch enemy and the introduction of Lord Bancroft Ashburton (one of Ingram’s brothers), who looks set to play a similar role to that of Mycroft Holmes.  A Study in Scarlet Women probably isn’t one for Holmes purists, but for those of us who like a determined, unconventional heroine, a decent mystery in an historical setting and who are prepared to nod and smile at the in-jokes and references, then my recommendation is, well, Elementary.

A Very Belated Best Of 2015

read all dayAlmost six weeks into 2016, and I haven’t been able to get around to writing up a post about my favourite reads and listens of 2015. I’ve written one each for All About Romance, Romantic Historical Reviews and AudioGals (running soon), and of course for each one, I could have chosen different titles or more titles… I had a good year last year when it came to books and audiobooks which made choosing the ones I enjoyed the most a difficult task.

I’m only including those books for which reviews appeared in 2015, as in most cases, I don’t put them here until they’ve appeared at the outlet for which they were initially written. This means that some of the books and audiobooks are ones I might have read or listened to at the end of 2014; similarly, there are a few missing from the end of 2015 for which reviews didn’t appear until 2016. Confusing perhaps, but if I had to go and check the date I’d actually finished each title it would have made the job of compiling this post an even longer one and given me another reason to put it off!

From my Goodreads stats:

Of the 231 books I read and/or listened to I gave 57 of them 5 stars; 97 of them 4 stars; 52 of them 3 stars; and 16 of them 1 or 2 stars.

As Goodreads doesn’t allow half-stars and I know that a large number of my 5 star ratings are actually 4.5 stars, here’s how I work them out. At AAR, we use a letter grading system; B+/B/B- and so on, so for me, an A is automatically a 5 star book (I’ve only given one A+ so far). A- and B+ equate to 4.5 stars, but I round an A- up to five and a B+ down to 4. B- and C+ equate to 3.5 stars, but I round a B- up to 4 and a C+ down to 3 and so on.

Top Books:

– ones I’ve given 5 stars or 4.5 stars and rounded up (A+/A/A-)

Honourable Mentions:

– a few of the B+ books I enjoyed

Of Rakes and Radishes by Susanna Ives
In Bed With a Spy by Alyssa Alexander
The Soldier’s Dark Secret by Marguerite Kaye
The Duke and the Lady in Red by Lorraine Heath
The Earl’s Dilemma by Emily May
The Marriage Act by Alyssa Everett
The Chaperone’s Seduction by Sarah Mallory
The Highwayman by Kerrigan Byrne
The Lure of the Moonflower by Lauren Willig
The Soldier’s Rebel Lover by Marguerite Kaye
A Talent for Trickery by Alissa Johnson
Cold Hearted Rake by Lisa Kleypas
Daniel’s True Desire by Grace Burrowes
The Spinster’s Guide to Scandalous Behaviour by Jennifer McQuiston
Sweetest Scoundrel by Elizabeth Hoyt

Top Audiobooks:

– ones that have received 4.5/5 stars or an A/A- for narration AND at least 4 stars/B for content.  This will naturally exclude a few titles where an excellent narration hasn’t been matched by a story that was equally good, OR where a really good story hasn’t been paired with a narrator who could do it justice.

I’ve also (finally!) got around to updating my 2015 TBR Challenge post with the list of books I chose to read last year. I completed the Mount TBR Challenge at Goodreads, too, knocking 32 or 33 books off my pre-2015 TBR pile.


(There are some overlaps with the TBR Challenge, and as I’ve been compiling this post, I’ve realised I missed a few out!) But I’m back into both challenges again this year and shall attempt to update my progress more regularly than I managed in 2015.

To sum up, almost half the books I read and/or listened to last year got at least 4 stars, which I think is a pretty good strike rate considering the numbers of books put out (and the amount of dross that’s out there to wade through).  2016 is also off to a good start, so keep watching these pages (or find me at my other haunts!) to find out what’s making me happy 🙂

The Immortal Heights (Elemental Trilogy #3) by Sherry Thomas

immortal heights

In a pursuit that has spanned continents, Iolanthe, Titus, and their friends have always managed to remain one step ahead of the forces of Atlantis. But now the Bane, the monstrous tyrant who bestrides the entire mage world, has issued his ultimatum: Titus must hand over Iolanthe, or watch as his entire realm is destroyed in a deadly rampage. Running out of time and options, Iolanthe and Titus must act decisively to deliver a final blow to the Bane, ending his reign of terror for good.

However, getting to the Bane means accomplishing the impossible—finding a way to infiltrate his crypt in the deepest recesses of the most ferociously guarded fortress in Atlantis. And everything is only made more difficult when new prophecies come to light, foretelling a doomed effort….

Iolanthe and Titus will put their love and their lives on the line. But will it be enough?

Rating: A-

The Immortal Heights is the final book in Sherry Thomas’ YA fantasy Elemental Trilogy, and brings to a very satisfying conclusion the story of Prince Titus of the House of Elberon and Iolanthe Seabourne begun in The Burning Sky and continued in The Perilous Sea . I don’t normally read Young Adult fiction, but I’m a huge fan of the author’s, so her name on the cover was enough to get me reading. And once I started, I was completely hooked, because the whole trilogy is utterly compelling and I can say without hesitation that this series surely represents a pinnacle of achievement in the genre. It’s Sherry Thomas – so it goes without saying that the writing is superb – but she has also crafted a terrific adventure story which incorporates one of the most deeply felt and beautiful romances I’ve ever read.

This is one of those times when it really is necessary to read all the books in order so that the story can be fully appreciated; and as neither of the first two books has been reviewed here, I’m going to talk about all three of the books in this review.

For as long as he can remember, Prince Titus of the Royal House of Elberon and Master of the Domain has known of the prophecy that he will, one day, defeat the cruel and tyrannical High Commander of Atlantis (otherwise known as The Bane) and free his people from fear and oppression. He will not, however, perform this onerous task alone; in fact his will be rather a secondary role as his task is to protect, at all costs, the great elemental mage who will actually do the deed. As he is just sixteen, the Domain is ruled by a regent (Titus’ uncle, who is little more than an Atlantean puppet), and Titus has been allowed to attend a non-mage school – Eton College in Victorian England. He has prepared well for the coming of the mage, inventing a persona and weaving various spells among his housemates so that when the mage eventually arrives, it will seem as though he has always been there. But Titus, a young man who has spent his life in preparation – learning how to fight both physically and with extremely complicated magic, learning everything he can about healing, about all forms of magic, about… basically, everything and anything – has forgotten to take into account one thing. He hadn’t given a thought to the fact that the most powerful elemental mage of their time … might be a girl.

When she’d summoned a bolt of lightning to revive a failing batch of elixir, Iolanthe Seabourne had never imagined it would throw her into the path of danger, adventure and destiny. The Burning Sky basically tells the story of how Titus and Iolanthe – who assumes the identity of Archer Fairfax at Eton – progress from their initial wariness and distrust to form an unbreakable bond of friendship and loyalty as they work together to confront the forces of Atlantis in what turns out to be the first skirmish of what will later turn into a full-scale conflict.

The Perilous Sea is perhaps the most romantic book of the three, as Titus and Iolanthe find themselves inexplicably in a situation where they have no memories of their past or of each other. Watching them falling in love all over again is a real delight, but Sherry Thomas doesn’t let up on the action front, skilfully interweaving narratives in dual time-lines that gradually converge to let the reader – and the protagonists – in on the secret as to how they got to where they started out. In the course of this story, Titus makes a discovery that turns everything he thought he knew upside-down, causing heartbreak for himself and Iolanthe, and raising the stakes as the final confrontation looms ever closer.

The Immortal Heights picks up exactly where The Perilous Sea leaves off – with Titus, Iolanthe and their fellow rebels declaring war on the might of Atlantis. Ms Thomas writes the action sequences very well, making it easy for the reader to get a clear picture of what’s going on amid the myriad of flying carpets, armoured chariots and flying wyverns, floating fortresses, ancient libraries and castle strongholds. But running beside all the magic and the action is the incredibly well-written, tender romance between the mage and the prince that began in the first book. Sherry Thomas is a consummate writer of romance, so once again, it’s no surprise that the relationship between Titus and Iolanthe is such an important part of the overall story, and it’s probably the element I enjoyed the most. Having two teenaged protagonists necessitates a less explicit romance, perhaps, but it’s certainly not without its heated moments and the chemistry between the couple is palpable. Both protagonists are engaging, fully-rounded characters who, while possessed of a maturity beyond their years, never come across as adult characters written into younger bodies. Titus is, it has to be said, a hero to swoon over – he’s handsome, fiercely intelligent, authoritative, witty and deeply loyal, with an underlying vulnerability and deeply-buried sweetness that he only ever allows Iolanthe to see. Above all, he is determined to fulfil the prophecy and free his people, even though, according to that prophecy, he will die in the fight. He has lost so much – his mother, his freedom, his childhood – but he has accepted his fate and all he wants is to protect Iolanthe and for her to live a long, happy life. Needless to say, she does not share Titus’ views about that – even when he tells her, in The Burning Sky she is to save herself and not worry about him when they get into tricky situations, she will have none of it and is as determined to keep him safe as he is determined to do the same for her. She is the perfect foil for him – just as intelligent, strong and determined as the prince, but with a more optimistic outlook that complements Titus’ more driven approach, and which starts to loosen him up a bit. This is a couple who are truly devoted to each other; they support each other without question, and the fact that they have reached a point when they don’t need words to express their feelings is truly affecting.

The story itself explores some complex themes, and while there are some elements which no doubt occur in many YA fantasies (like the baddie seeking immortality), I haven’t read enough of them for it to feel samey; so for me, this whole trilogy was a refreshing departure from my normal reading fare. I teared up several times while reading, and was genuinely sorry when I reached the final page. If Ms Thomas ever decides to take up the story of the mage and her prince again – and there are hints of other exploits in the epilogue – then I’ll be at the front of the queue with the grabbiest hands.

The Immortal Heights is a worthy successor to the earlier books, and a terrific conclusion to a hugely enjoyable trilogy. The fantasy/adventure story is very well thought-out and executed, but ultimately, it’s the strong bonds of friendship and trust that develop between the small group of central characters, the excellent dialogue, and the heartfelt romance that make this series into something special.