“We will protect that which we love, even when we don’t want to love it and we don’t feel it loves us. Perhaps it doesn’t. That is how love works. It exists, whether or not it is returned.” – R. Cooper
Title: Wicklow’s Odyssey
Author: R. Cooper
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Pages/Word Count: 350 Pages
Rating: 5 Stars
Blurb: Union soldier Wicklow Doyle is infiltrating enemy lines to set up new radio communications technology in Confederate-held Charleston when his location is betrayed. After sacrificing himself to get his team to safety, he’s on the lam, friendless in a hostile town. Determining who betrayed him without discovery by Confederate soldiers is dangerous, but Wicklow grew up in the slums of New York and knows how to handle himself. He isn’t expecting anyone on his team to return to help him, much less Alexander Rhoades.
An effete dandy of great intelligence and conviction, Alexander Rhoades speaks through stories instead of giving orders, and he has earned the confidence of the rich and powerful. While Wicklow has come not to trust men with those traits, Rhoades has never once let him down. He looks at Wicklow in ways that make him burn beneath his skin and tells him stories of love and bravery Wicklow yearns to understand. Wicklow has absolute faith Rhoades’s brilliant mind will uncover the traitor in their midst and find them a way out of the city. But when Rhoades tells him he’s not alone, Wicklow isn’t sure he can believe him. For the first time in his life, though, he wants to.
Review: It’s an odd thing but sometimes the more I love a book, the more difficult it is to put that love into words, which leaves me afraid I’ll never be able to do this book justice. The first thought I had when I finished Wicklow’s Odyssey was, “damn, this book was freaking brilliant,” and my love for it has only increased the farther I am from having finished. My second thought when I finished this book was, “please, please let there be more.” That’s how much I loved these characters, not only Alexander Rhoades and Wicklow Doyle, but all of them. I don’t want to let them go and can only hope with the ending R. Cooper has delivered that it means there will be more adventures to be had by this Sacred Band of spies.
All I needed to see was that this book is Steampunk to know I wanted it. Not having bothered to read the blurb then discovering that the story takes place in an Alternate History during the US Civil War, the level of perfection for me could only have been increased by it being filled with action, suspense, danger, intrigue, romance and characters with whom I fell in love, all told in a prose that was not only descriptive but also engaged the imagination in every possible way.
From the moment R. Cooper introduces Private Wicklow Doyle—beaten, imprisoned, and awaiting death—it becomes obvious his story is one that’s going to do more than tell a simple tale. There, in fact, is nothing at all simple about Wicklow or the man who comes to his rescue, Alexander Rhoades, the man who becomes Wicklow’s leader and tells him stories in the Greek epic tradition, of Troy and the Trojan War, and then leaves Wicklow to suss out what those stories mean to him and to his mission.
Private Doyle and Rhoades are an enigma in the way only men who are adept at keeping secrets and are proficient in the language of hiding their motives and intentions can be, or, in Wicklow’s case, not understanding what it means to trust and to believe someone cares for him. Wicklow and Rhoades couldn’t be more different—Doyle, the rough and rigid Irishman, and Rhoades, the sophisticated rogue whose cleverness at times comes off as madness. Rhoades is fluent in seduction and isn’t above taking any number of men to bed to gain the information he needs to further his cause. Wicklow is fluent in anger and, at times, killing if the situation warrants it, coming from a world where fighting often meant survival. There is no one Wicklow trusts unconditionally, not even the men and woman who make up the team he works with to carry out Rhoades’s mission to bring the Civil War nearer to an end. These two men together become a puzzle to be solved and as the author parses out clues here and there about who they are, all while building the sexual tension between them, it becomes imperative to know them and to see how the relationship between the man who seduces and the man who doesn’t like to be touched will resolve to remain in each other’s lives and perhaps become more to each other than simply chess master and pawn.
The timing of this book couldn’t be more perfect, and you don’t have to be a Civil War history major to appreciate the events that build up to one of the more tension filled and action packed climaxes I’ve ever read in a book. You need only know the motives for the war, who fought it, and its outcome to understand how beautifully R. Cooper has twisted it to suit this clockwork, steam driven adventure, where a great iron beast is the Trojan horse that, if not lamed, could bring victory to the South. Every single anachronism purposefully woven into this novel does nothing but add to the sense of intrigue, every single character introduced along the way not only adds to the adventure but also exposes more about Wicklow Doyle, revelations that are sometimes frustrating, sometimes heart-tugging as he tries to understand what he’s feeling, but each and every one is a new layer peeled away from this complex man’s prickly exterior.
I am so thoroughly infatuated with Wicklow’s Odyssey, with every nuance, every word the author shaped and finessed to tell the story through a vivid narrative and lush dialogue, that I want to bask in my love for it again. Just as Rhoades is the voice in Wicklow’s ear, a voice that soothes, directs, touches Wicklow without touching, R. Cooper directs us through this exquisite journey. I could likely write a second and third review of this book and come up with something new to love about it each time, that’s how rich Wicklow’s Odyssey is and I can’t begin to recommend it enough.
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