Published by: Roc
Diana Pharoah Francis throws us right into the action - and into the attitude of Lucy Trenton - right at the start:
I'd enjoyed Ms. Francis' last trilogy (which started off with Path of Fate) and although I finished all three books, I felt a little let down by the time I finished the third book.
There were some days that deserved to be be drowned at birth and everyone sent back to bed with a hot brandy, a box of chocolates and a warm, energetic companion. Today was without question one of those days.
The cutter lurched over the chop, shimmying from side-to-side in a stomach-twisting quadrille. Rain pebbled the deck and sails, sounding like hail. Water sheeted across the bow in drenching wings and swirled around Lucy's feet, too great a flood for the scuttles to handle. Her socks were soaked and she could hardly feel her toes. She ought to have had her boots majicked against the weather like her cloak. But it was a bit more majick than she could take. Cold eeled deep inside Lucy. Her insides quaked with the penetrating chill and her muscles clenched against it. She tightened her arms around her stomach, wishing she'd eaten a better breakfast and thinking longingly of her forgotten flask of tea. A few minutes later she heard a shouted "heave to!" Sailers scrambled up the shrouds to reef the handful of bellied sails. The men at the poles dug sharply into the churning water as the cutter heeled to starboard. - pg 1, The Cipher
The Cipher is the first of her latest trilogy. It didn't have quite the same affect on me as did Path of Fate (I cried reading some sections of that book, seriously), it's a good read.
Lucy Trenton is a member of one of the founding families of Crosspointe, a maritime town. She's also a cargo inspector, so she's out and about ships and warehouses, even in horrid weather.
One of Lucy's problems is that she can sense magick; it overwhelms her to the point where she'll do things as if she's in a trance. The magick she senses at the beginning of this book leads her to a warehouse, and although she tries to stop herself from looking for the source of that magick, her willpower is too weak: A cipher - magically-cursed objects created centuries before by a magician named Errol Cipher - attaches itself to her arm. The weird thing is, Lucy can see this thing, but others cannot.
And, oh, the nasty magick this damned cipher can do!
She hasn't helped matters by actually collecting these things; let's just say law enforcement isn't too keen to have people collecting these things. Considering that this can be used against her by those who hate the royal family, Lucy has kept this quiet, a secret, for many years.
Until someone starts blackmailing her. This eventually sends events spiralling out of control, started by her friend and (sometime) lover, Marten. Having to deal with bad weather was one thing, but Lucy now has to contend with sylveth (enchanted "stuff" that can turn humans and animals into grotesque, murderous forms) on a huge scale by being sent to The Brambles...
But you'll have to read the book to figure out just exactly what The Brambles is.
My Take On the Book
I loved the heroine of this book, because she's strong but has flaws. Also, she's not a rail-thin MC, as a lot of MCs tend to be. She had her moments where I wanted to smack her silly and say, "Are you nuts?" But, let's face it - we all do stupid things, sometimes one after the other - so I didn't have a problem with Lucy being that way from time to time. (You've had one of those days, haven't you, where everything you say and do is stupid/inane? I know I've had plenty.)
She also gets burned up a lot, which might make her wimpy and whiny to some. But after all my trials and tribulations of the past few months, I had a lot of sympathy for Lucy, because there were plenty of times when I cried or felt like crying, and it wasn't because of any physical pain. (Lucy also has some mental anguish, because of what the blackmailer does to a good portion of her family - all going back to her obsession with ciphers.)
There's one part near the end wherein Lucy (and Marten, to an extent) are given something magickal, something I won't describe here. I fully expected Lucy and Marten to struggle more as, let's say, the evil surrounded them. But this thing they're given...I don't know...it just seemed too easy. No, there's no, "it came from out of nowhere" moment; nothing like that. It's hard to put a finger on it, but that part just felt off to me.
Rating? Who's Got the Rating?
There were a couple of slow stretches here and there, but nothing that dragged on endlessly (or anything that had me pissed off). That, combined with the uneasiness mentioned above, lead me to give this a B. A good solid B, missing an A ::by that much::.
Good enough, in fact, for me to look forward to the second book, The Black Ship.