Here's my second review for the 2012 Australian Women Writers Challenge.
1890s suffragette Esme Smith is in need of a man to represent her views in the gentlemen-only clubs of Freemantle and Perth. As the daughter of the wealthiest man in Western Australia, she can afford to pay the right man. Her sea captain uncle suggests an American freshly arrived from Europe, one Jed Reeve. This charming and handsome conman will do anything for the right price, her uncle suggests, and Esme quickly decides Jed is just the man for her. Jed, an innovative inventor in his own right, is taken by the beautiful and spirited Esme, and agrees to her audacious plan.
Esme doesn’t only believe in women’s rights, she’s also a secessionist who believes Western Australia would be better off being independent rather than joining the federation of the eastern states, and her views are only strengthened when an arrogant and wealthy easterner begins to court her with an eye to marriage and her generous dowry.
I really enjoyed the depictions of daily life in the Swan River colony, including the exotic-sounding Bombaytown. As befits a steampunk story, inventions pop up everywhere — coffee makers, solar-powered stoves, etc. Esme makes a charming and spirited heroine, independent yet caring, and proactive in opposing the inequalities she comes across in her daily life. Jed Reeve is a great hero who perhaps at times could be more of the scoundrel he purports to be. The romance between these two blossoms at a smart pace, helped along the way by admirers on either side plus the odd dash of heroics. Towards the end the story takes an unexpected twist which I definitely wasn’t expecting, and the final showdown is suitably satisfying.
If you’re looking for an Australian historical romance with a steampunk aesthetic, then you’ll definitely enjoy Wanted: One Scoundrel.
Publisher: Carina Press
Length: 26,000 words