Zebra Books, Kensington Publishing
Release Date: October 25, 2016
Rating (Out of 5):
Synopsis: Born into one of New York's most respected families, William Sloane is a railroad baron who has all the right friends in all the right places. But no matter how much success he achieves, he always wants more. Having secured his place atop the city's highest echelons of society, he's now setting his sights on a political run. Nothing can distract him from his next pursuit--except, perhaps, the enchanting con artist he never saw coming . . .
Ava Jones has eked out a living the only way she knows how. As "Madam Zolikoff," she hoodwinks gullible audiences into believing she can communicate with the spirit world. But her carefully crafted persona is nearly destroyed when Will Sloane walks into her life--and lays bare her latest scheme. The charlatan is certain she can seduce the handsome millionaire into keeping her secret and using her skills for his campaign--unless he's the one who's already put a spell on her . . .
Baron continues Joanna Shupe's Knickerbocker Club series and draws readers into 1888 New York City: its Gilded Age splendor and rich railroad barons, its slum tenements and hardworking residents just trying to get by, its politics and its plots. The series follows the rich and powerful men of the Knickerbocker Club, you don't need to have read Magnate, the first in the series, to enjoy Baron, although several of the same characters appear in both books. Baron follows William Sloane (Elizabeth's older brother from Magnate) as he runs for Lieutenant Governor of New York. Already the head of one of the biggest railroad companies in the country and one of the richest men in New York, Will continues to push himself harder and higher.
Will first meets Ava as "Madam Zolikoff", a medium performing in small theaters and doing private seances. He wants her to back away from one of her clients, who happens to be his running mate on the election ticket. But Ava is the only person he's ever met willing to stand up to him, and to tell him "no" at every turn. Naturally, Will can't resist a challenge and Ava challenges him constantly. Ava has worked hard all of her life to create better opportunities for her younger brothers and sister, wanting to make sure they don't have to work dangerous factory jobs or steal just to put food on the table. She's close to having enough money saved up for them to leave New York for a country life when Will charges in and complicates her already complicated life.
I was skeptical of both Will and Ava before I started reading. The only redeeming quality I saw in Will from Magnate was that he loved his sister. How was he going to make a likable male lead? What reasons could Ava have for her cons that would make what she was doing 'ok'? I ended up really liking Ava from the very beginning. She was strong and never backed down from all the challenges life threw at her. Everything she did was to try and give her younger siblings a better life. She recognized that her work was morally questionable, but kept to her own code- providing entertainment in the theater, recognizing that usually private seance participants wanted more to be listened to than find where grandma hid the silver, and when she had to give advice she made sure it was as common sense and as close to her client's leanings as possible. Will was a bit tougher for me. He was so used to getting his own way through money, forceful personality, and blackmail that he railroaded anyone who got in his way. Qualities that will make you rich and powerful, but not good romantic material. Through a good portion of the book I kept debating whether I thought Will actually loved Ava and just hadn't figured it out yet, or she was just another case of him selfishly getting his own way. It was definitely a mix for awhile. By the end I was convinced that he had changed enough that he was capable of loving her, putting aside some of the driving forces that just made him want 'more' and instead wanting to be happy. His grand gesture for Ava at the end was a great, very Will-like way, of proving it.
Baron is an excellent addition to this lovely new series. Well-written, well-researched, fast-paced, and detailed, the characters were fully three-dimensional, the challenges were real and nothing was easily overcome. Even those who know nothing of New York politics during this time will come away with a pretty good idea of what Will was up against. I very much look forward to Mogul, coming out in the spring!
I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.