|Everyone who loves cute antics (instead of a plot), familiar characters (including cute, meddlesome servants and cute, preternaturally smart pets), and cute slapstick humor (like people with underwear on their heads) will think this book is really cute.
Camelia Marshall needs Simon Kent’s help, so she barges in on the reclusive inventor in his London home without an invitation. Camelia is an archeologist following in her late father’s footsteps, searching for the Tomb of Kings he was convinced existed in South Africa. Archaeological efforts in 1885 were evidently directed towards Egypt – her father’s interest in South Africa was thought slightly ridiculous. She’s determined to redeem his reputation by succeeding where he failed.
Unfortunately, her dig is continually flooded and she’s in desperate need of a steam pump to remove the water. Her efforts to procure a pump have been stymied on two continents; she believes that the De Beers diamond monopoly has instructed every steam pump company in both South Africa and London not to supply her with equipment. (It never seems to occur to her that her inability to buy a pump might have something to do with the fact that she has no money to pay for one.)
She read, however, that Simon invented a new steam pump and hopes that he will sell it to her in return for a percentage of her “profits” from the dig over the next two years. Camelia thinks this offer is “very generous” but Simon is unconvinced, given that she can neither promise to find anything at all in the next two years nor place any estimate whatsoever on the size of her “profits.”
In desperation, Camelia steals the drawings for Simon’s pump and departs. Simon goes after her, only to find two thugs mugging her in an alley. They warn her to “stay out of Africa” if she wants to live. Simon drives the ruffians off with firecrackers he just happens to have in his pockets, sees Camelia to her carriage, and returns home to find his house going up in flames. Coincidence? We think not.
Unfortunately for the villains, whoever they may be, now that eleven years of work and research have been reduced to cinders, Simon has nothing better to do than build a steam pump for Camelia, notice that she’s a remarkably fine-smelling woman, and go with her to Africa to show her workers how to use it.
I don’t know what to tell you about Camelia and Simon except that you’ve met them before. She’s a socially inept ‘intellectual,’ devoted to her cause to the exclusion of everything else (including other people’s lives and safety, and similar pesky details), and she’s infuriated by everyone who questions her obsession. He’s the eccentric misfit, who wants only to fix things, build things and invent things. Because this is a romance, he’s also good-looking, well-built and thinks fast in a crisis. Naturally, they fall in love – at least, that’s what we’re told.
When not reminding us of the importance of Camelia’s dig and explaining the evils of racism, the book spends an enormous amount of time describing things. Like all the ways these nebulous enemies are trying to stop her research, and how seasick everyone is on the voyage to Africa, and the adorable behavior of Camelia’s pets. She has a parrot, a monkey and a snake. The snake is portrayed as cuddly as well as clever. The monkey demonstrates an amazing comprehension of complex ideas expressed in English. Everybody know what ‘anthropomorphism’ means?
There are loads of adorable secondary characters, including Simon’s chatty Scottish servants, who make speeches in Scots dialect, and two villains (one an adorable bumbler who’s always eating when he’s supposed to be wreaking havoc) who make speeches with lots of period slang in a lower-class English dialect. Camelia’s African companion – more uncle than servant – is blessedly a man of few words.
And they all wander around talking to each other until finally the true villain is unmasked and the good guys live happily ever after.
Some lucky readers will think this book is a sweet alternative to harsh reality. Some will feel like they need a shot of insulin with a caffeine chaser.
-- Judi McKee