Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Book Review - Pip Ballantine and Tee Morris's The Diamond Conspiracy

The Diamond Conspiracy by Pip Ballantine and Tee Morris
ARC Provided by the Publisher
Published by: Ace
Publication Date: March 31st, 2015
Format: Paperback, 368 Pages
Rating: ★★★★
To Buy

Wellington Books and Eliza Braun are reveling in each other as they return home from the United States. They are finally as one, on the field and in the bedroom. Though their luxuriant revels come to an end when Eliza gets a ping from the distress beacon she left with her maid Alice and the street urchins that are under her protection, known as the Ministry Seven. They race to their rendezvous point in France to discover that their situation is dire. Queen Victoria has decided that The Ministry is a danger to her reign, and in particular to her plans for her Diamond Jubilee, and is using her other secret organization, the Department of Imperial Inconveniences to eliminate the Ministry. The Department in their signature tweed has been dispatching Ministry agents around the globe with alarming efficiency. Though the Ministry is far from beaten. Director Sound has enacted Shadow Protocol and the disparate agents from around the world are gathering, to regroup and figure out just why they were such a danger to the Queen and how they can stop her.

Half the fun of two strong leads is the will they won't they factor. More then one story has hinged on the sexual tension between the protagonists, or antagonists as it were. The problem that arises from this situation is that if you lead your audience on for too long they get frustrated. Likewise, if the relationship doesn't successfully gel after consummation, then you are in another dire situation, and sometimes go to drastic lengths to solve this problem, yes I'm looking at you Battlestar Galactica. An unsuccessful resolution has spelled the end for many franchises; it is what I like to call the Moonlighting factor, and yes, I know I'm not the only one to use this delightful eighties show as the case study for what not to do with a storyline. Moonlighting quite literally imploded when the leads, Maddie Hayes and David Addison, slept together at the end of the third season. The show spiraled out of control with a lame marriage plot and Maddie miscarrying her and David' child, till a show that was so bright ended with a whimper and the too appropriate epitaph "romance is a fragile thing." Therefore, while I have been delighting in the romance brewing between Books and Braun, I was also very wary.

Yet the time had more then come for Books and Braun to finally get their act together. The previous installment, Dawn's Early Light, was the tipping point with their antagonism and jealous acts. The Diamond Conspiracy opens up with the agents in full blissful coupledom. And here is where I say that thankfully they have avoided all the snares and dangers that were in their paths, huzzah! All gadgets and gizmos have been disarmed and dismantled and what has emerged is even sexier then before. Pip and Tee have managed to keep the tension between Welly and Eliza while simultaneously having their relationship develop into the next stage. Their blissful journey across the Atlantic and their stolen moments are what true sexual chemistry is all about. Yet, to me, the most romantic aspect is not their sexual chemistry, but the way they work as a team. They know the other one always has their back. They are a perfect unit and it is this connection that brings back the fresh dynamic of the first book in this series as it simultaneously sets a sturdier base for continued adventures.

With this consummation of their attraction and their developing relationship we have a very character driven story which spills out into the rest of the book. I think this is the best thing that could have happened for this series. The characters have always been the heart of the story, they have always shone while the plot flounders. The Diamond Conspiracy has stripped down this unwieldy universe that Pip and Tee have created and made it hinge on the human element. They have pulled in all the disparate elements and agents from around the globe that have featured in the Tales from the Archives and parred it down to a manageable amount. At times prior to reading this installment I have felt that their world with all it's tangential stories was almost too hard to hold onto, all the different threads of all these different stories turning to water in my hands and running away from me. This felt like a great spring cleaning, the house has been made new by brushing the cobwebs away. The Diamond Conspiracy feels like a new start for all our characters and it has invigorated me, in fact after finishing the book I felt so optimistic that I didn't want to pick up the next book I had ready to go and instead I started to clean my library, and yes, this is a very daunting task and perhaps shouldn't be started late on a Sunday night... what can I say, the book did it to me!

The feeling of this new beginning though needs to have follow through. The Big Bad of these books has gone a little blurg. While Doctor Jekyll does have a lot going for him as the ultimate puppet master, I seriously might go crazy if Sophia del Morte shows up yet again. In my mind she has never nor will never bring anything to these books. There comes a point when new evils need to be faced and the old evils put away. If there's one thing that I can't stand is the magical return of some long defeated foe. Pip and Tee have defeated quite a few, now let them all rest. Bring in a new villain to go with the new outlook on this series. Keep developing the villains just as Books and Braun's relationship has developed. But don't bring in new angles on old foes. Yes, that little twist that you end The Diamond Conspiracy with is interesting, but still, it's just the old with a twist of the new. The worst season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer is easily season seven, because they brought back a villain who could also mimic every other villain ever seen on the show. Please. Move it along.

Despite my little rant there, the villains and their dirty deeds were really just a blip, they were part and parcel of the story and is more a warning rant then anything specific in this volume. The truth is this was a near perfect return to form if it hadn't been for the H.G. Wells factor. In previous volumes august personages have made appearances, as is logical for there are distinct people who unknowingly formed what we now know as Steampunk. From Edison to Tesla to Wells, their visions of the future formed the literature of the future, and the television shows, and the movies. The problem I have with Wells is that it comes too close to another Steampunk franchise I love, and that's Warehouse 13. There is no denying the similarities of The Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences and Warehouse 13. With Wellington's archive and the Warehouse, we have two places that collect and store dangerous Steampunky artifacts, occasionally using them to solve their cases. One is present, one is past, I have no problem with them coexisting in my brain or in the world. What I do have a problem with is H.G. Wells being in both in such a similar manner. And H.G. was part of the Warehouse team over a year before the very first Ministry book came out. Just saying, even if Wells is so important to the Steampunk movement, perhaps Wells needs a little distance from the Ministry to not feel like a rip-off.


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