Rating: 4 stars
Buy Link: Amazon | All Romance
R. Cooper has always been an author I admire for the ability to write such comprehensive characters. While some may feel this author’s novels have a slow build and can sometimes be wordy, I find that every sentence on the page is just another piece of how we get to know the men and women that people Cooper’s stories. Wicklow’s Odyssey is no exception. Aside from coming in somewhere over 300 plus pages, this is a story that builds deliberately and tells a complete and interesting tale.
Set in the civil war era but in an alternate reality, we are introduced to a team of spies who infiltrate the south setting up radio stations so that other spies can report back the movements and plans of the enemies. Much of the history of the war is maintained in this novel and so one feels immersed in the plotting and carnage that was the war to free the slaves. This group, put together by Alexander Rhodes, includes an Irish soldier named Wicklow. Pulled from the slums to fight in the Northern army, the story opens with Wicklow being saved from a firing squad for stealing food intended for officers only. As was true of those years, armies in both the north and the south were underfed, poorly clothed and not much more than a ragtag group of farmers and poor immigrants. Wicklow is saved by Rhodes and then taught all he needs to know about how to build and maintain short wave radios.
However while on a job in Charleston, the team is compromised and set up on by the enemy, barely escaping. Now there is a traitor in their small group and it is up to Rhodes to ferret out which team member that may be. Time is short and tensions high but there is also time for the love that had been festering between Wicklow and Rhodes to surface. Wicklow is never more aware of his poor upbringing than when he is in the presence of the scholarly and wealthy Alexander Rhodes. But Rhodes has always looked beyond Wicklow’s circumstances and seen the intelligent and wounded man inside. But time is running out. They must find who has betrayed them and also discover what war machine the south has been building. This plus somehow manage to get out alive to report back to Washington.
I have never appreciated more how this author builds romance between two very reluctant partners. Placing them in difficult circumstances with their lives at stake, there is never a time when the implausible arises or the story is rushed. Rather we are privy to every qualm and worry these two men have and how carefully each dances around the other, so scared to profess their love or act on it at all. Interwoven with taut action scenes and nail-biting escapes from danger, their love starts and stops in fits of a need to communicate and the realization that theirs is a love that may well be doomed from the start. Each scene builds both the story and exposes the growing need Wicklow and Rhodes have hidden for each other, from each other. It is frustratingly slow and yet sublimely rich and heady.
Perhaps the only problem I had with Wicklow’s Odyssey overall was the steampunk/alternate reality themes. At first, I must admit that I was not even aware we were in a different setting then that of the actual civil war. Once flying machines and short wave radios were introduced, I realized we were headed away from the normal historical romance and into a different genre altogether. I actually felt this was the weakest element in the novel overall. I felt that it took too much time to establish that we were headed into a steampunk-esque story and that the intermingling of factual history with the fantastical actually weakened the story for me. Several times those alternate world moments pulled me from the action of the story and, knowing the era being written about, made me frustrated that we just could not stick to the facts. Other than the climactic ending, I really thought that this was a story that did not need those mechanical references to make it more exciting. Perhaps I missed something but I honestly believe that this story would have been much stronger as a historical romance rather than the weaker steampunk offering it turned out to be.
Despite that flaw, however, Wicklow’s Odyssey was still an incredibly well written story of intrigue and romance. R. Cooper knows how to write relationships and fascinating characters and for that, this novel does not disappoint!