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Wicklow Doyle is part of a team of operatives in Charleston, South Carolina, during the American Civil War. His particular job is developing radio communications for the Union army. It becomes apparent there is a traitor in the team when Confederate soldiers head straight for where he was creating a base for these communications. The rest of the book is about three things: finding out that the traitor is relationships with other team members, and his growing attraction for their leader, Alexander Rhodes.
First off, radio? In the Civil War? There is no indication that this is a Steam punk novel, but it is, according to the author. Once I had been apprised of this I did not balk at the mention of telephones and dirigibles, the first three of which did not make their appearance until the 1870s and after. If it weren’t for the fact that a whole string of events that began earlier led to the development of phones and radio I should not have questioned it, but Steampunk is Steampunk, and this is the American version.
This is a remarkable novel with incredibly erotic and evocative sex scenes, complex and credible interactions between characters, and for the plot features a very tense and building effort to find the traitor. It is this last that ruins the book, since the dramatic lead up to the traitor’s revelation and dealing with him/her happens off screen with little actual complexity. I kept expecting more but never got it. Nevertheless, the novel kept me on edge as the team members discover the weapon the South has developed and decides to deal with it themselves.
Probably the best part of this novel is the relationship between Wicklow and Rhodes. The latter has been taken with Wicklow since he rescued him from execution to become part of his team working for the Union army. Wicklow has been drawn to Rhodes as well, though with a great deal of denial. They wind up stuck in a room in a brothel for a few days where Rhodes and Wicklow make the sort of exquisitely slow mutual discoveries about their sexual attraction that is so subtle and beautifully drawn that I was left amazed about it. I have never read better erotica.
In spite of this the sex seems to be pointing to eventual anal penetration and this never happens. The book is such a puzzling set of contradictions that I can’t explain it. For a book so masterfully written to have two such holes in the plot astounds me.
Back to the eroticism, Rhodes and Wicklow have subtle, step by step, and excruciating actions. Every touch is descried, every kiss, every point of contact in a way that is evocative and loving.SPOILER: I kept expecting the traitor to turn out to be Rhodes himself, to be discovered when Wicklow is back in Washington DC, but I was wrong. It turned out the off-camera discovery of the traitor and