I came to her works late but I've been making up for lost time and loving the hell out of so many but especially her Company novels and short stories. Then the Nell Gwynne's novellas arrived and were a surprise for me - such a departure from the expected and a delightful cheeky mashup of Victorian bordello humor and steampunk secret agent stuff ala Gail Carriger. It's all very "save the world with a wink and a smile" and I just couldn't get enough. Thankfully, Kathleen Bartholomew stepped in and has co-written the final Nell Gwynne's title, On Land and At Sea which will be out from Subterranean Press at the end of the year. Reader, I loved it and if you want something smart and fun and a wee bit saucy then you shall love it too.
The set up remains that of the ladies of Nell Gwynne's where not only are certain unorthodox carnal delights to be found (as described in the opening pages) but also a whole lot of spying. The ladies serve Queen and Empire as an auxiliary to the Gentlemen's Speculative Society. This means that all sorts of information is passed in all sorts of ways and plots are uncovered and skullduggery stopped in its tracks and of course - of course - when the ladies go to the seaside for a much deserved vacation they uncover a plot to bomb the French and start a war.
They stop it but that is only a small part of story.
You have the hunting of fossils (because these ladies are smart and curious), you have much visiting of the beach and much reading of long overlooked books and some game playing and House-of-Cards building and plenty of shopping (it is a vacation!) and also the taming of mechanical horses (really). They send secret messages using unorthodox technology, seek out caves, spy, rescue a most deserving dog and go for a swim in some really really cold water. There's also pretending to love someone in order to save the country (one does what one must) and that is really the hardest thing of all because the fellow in question is an utter and complete drip but it all works out and they get to keep the mechanical horse contraption and isn't that worth it?
Soooo smart and so funny and so full of adult moments and conversations wherein one understands that sometimes a lady must do what she must do but as long as she does it well, who cares. Plus there is letter exchanging with Charles Darwin - of course!!!! I get all swoon-y about the Nell Gwynne books, really I do, because they are burlesque and James Bond and they work so well. Illustrations, as usual by JK Potter; be on the lookout for On Land and At Sea, it's an excellent way to begin 2013.