Of Kings, Confessions & Murder

This series just gets better and better! What Angels Fear was a masterful introduction to the best sleuth of contemporary fiction. While something always felt odd about Sebastian's relationship with Kat, the way they worked together was engrossing, and those first few books were the perfect blend of dark malevolence, twisty intrigue and high-flying action. What followed were those in-between books where Kat steps out of center stage and Hero wanders part-way into the picture. They developed his character and demonstrated the depth and strength of personality required to endure the revelations and machinations thrown into a life nowhere near as simple as was once believed. Finally, we have the current phase of Sebastian's career as a noble sleuth, where he has finally convinced Hero to marry him and they are beginning to hesitantly form a formidable partnership. Why Kings Confess is the end of a tensely drawn-out plot line from which new developments and characters weave themselves into the growing saga.

Our favorite detective is matched up against a rumor which was a legend from the moment it was first whispered. When Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette mounted the guillotine and Marie-Therese was held under lock and key, did the little Dauphin endure a long, abusive death ... or was he liberated from his prison cell and spirited away in secret? When one of history's most tantalizing pieces of gossip is revitalized, Sebastian must dig into the innuendos, idle fantasies, and outright lies of revolutionaries, political magnates bent on destroying Napoleon's reign, and the scattered remnants of the French royal family. Could the Dauphin have survived only to face violence and death in the rookeries of London long decades after the Reign of Terror? What stakes have been raised when not only is a man found dead, but desecrated with a hole in his chest where his heart should have been?

The Mystery...
Not original, but entirely Harris! The rumors surrounding the little Dauphin and his possible escape from captivity create a fertile source of inspiration for authors to mine. I'm not very surprised to see it crop up in a Sebastian St. Cyr mystery, but to me it meant there was just that much more at stake. Whereas many other authors take historical curiosities and blow them all out of proportion, creating tall tales and taking all the bite out of the historical in their fiction, Harris has proven time and again that she does not go in for cheap tricks and easy melodrama to progress her stories. She tries to allow what facts there are to speak for themselves and create the background to her stories for her, rather than molding the history to fit the story. As before, she has paid a respectfully eloquent tribute to the historical record in this case. It's easy to take the bygone gossips at their word and say the Lost Dauphin escaped and survived, but not so easy to create a credible epilogue to his tale. I think Harris made a wise choice by presenting a believable scenario, but ultimately left it up to her audience to judge for ourselves.

The Characters...
If there is one aspect of this addition to the series that falls somewhat short it is in the characterization. There aren't really any major development points with anybody ... (view spoiler) There is one out-standing psychological breakthrough for Sebastian dealing with a traumatic altercation during his service, thus leading him to sell his commission and shoulder a moral burden that haunts him to this day. Through Hero the oppression on his spirit is dealt with to a certain extent, though Sebastian isn't the sort of man who would ever release his own conscience from perceived responsibility. That's who he is, though, and his personal demons are one of the reasons he is such an engaging personality. Still no news on his mother, his true paternity, the rough and tough Mr. Knox, or any of the other long-ranging story arcs, but this was something that had been an outstanding hole in Sebastian's story, and it was satisfying to have it filled in.

The Shifting Balance...
As stated, the series has undergone a major evolution as Sebastian's character, relationships, and role have altered and grown. With that and the change in his personal responsibilities to his wife and the family they oh-so-accidentally started, the overall balance of brain-bending crime-solving and thriller-style action has shifted. Where the earlier books had Sebastian running down back alleys and into abandoned warehouses chasing after gun- or dagger-wielding crooks every few chapters, the emphasis now is more on the intellectual puzzle of the crimes. Oh, don't get me wrong! There is still plenty of derring-do on our dashing hero's part, but it doesn't dominate the pages anymore. Whether this was a deliberate choice on Harris' part or entirely incidental, I think it reflects the re-balancing of his life that has come with marriage to Hero and coming fatherhood.

Hero, Love & A Baby...
FINALLY!!! Finally, in so many ways! First and foremost, Sebastian finally manages to bring himself to say the words he has kept inside, but have been so plain until now. Does that count as a spoiler? Deal with it! And, of course, we have the other FINALLY moment: Hero finally gets to have the baby she has been pregnant with for five books. It may be nine months either way, but that's a high page-count pregnancy! I was really starting to feel bad when we got through What Darkness Brings and she still hadn't popped. And, in true Harris fashion, there was nothing easy about it for either Sebastian or Hero. The threat of the loss of the wife he had only recently come to love and their child colored the entire book. The ending was pitch-perfect and so emotionally-charged, ending this chapter of their relationship and opening the way for the next part of the unlikeliest of romances.

It was hard to wait a year for it, but Harris always makes it well worth our patience. Understandably, Hero couldn't play much of a role in the mystery itself in this one -- she was a little preoccupied -- but here's hoping that she'll become the well-matched partner she has shown the promise of being previously. An excellent addition to an addictively wonderful series. Bravo!