Friday, April 8, 2016

Discussion: A Broken Vessel by Kate Ross

Earlier in March, Sunita, Liz, and I read A Broken Vessel by Kate Ross, a Julian Kestrel Regency mystery. We will be discussing the book in the comments section of this post.

A Broken Vessel is the second book of the short four-book series by Kate Ross. I love this series so far and wish there were more books. If you're interested in historical mysteries and/or the Regency era, I highly recommend these books. Ross does the Regency so well—nothing overt but with complete immersion.

We read the first book Cut to the Quick in December, and that discussion is here.

While CTTQ was set in a country manor, ABV is set in London. In it, we're introduced to Sally, Kestrel's valet Digger's sister. She's a lady of the night, who is content with her lot and lifestyle. Due to her propensity for thieving from the coat tail pocket of her clients ("flats"), she comes across a letter which is a confessional note by Mary, a lady who made a mistake and was now labeled a harlot. She has sought refuge in a reformation house but feels herself watched and denigrated all the time. In time, Mary's murdered and this is her story.

In the meantime, one of Sally's flat injures her badly and in that state she enters Kestrel's life. Kestrel is angered and disturbed by what has happened to her. And this is where the best part of the book for me took off. There's of course the unfolding of the mystery and busy to-ing and fro-ing of Kestrel and Sally in search of clues. However, Kestrel's and Sally's burgeoning relationship from those improbable beginnings to an amicable coming together is superbly and sensitively handled. At no point is there any slut-shaming or a miraculous turning away from her lifestyle for Sally.

Before meeting Sally, this was Kestrel's opinion of prostitutes.

"I was subjected to interesting and indecent proposals by what Dipper calls public ledgers."
"Public ledgers?"
"I suppose because any man may make an entry."

This was Kestrel's first opinion after he meets Sally. In conversation with Digger:

"You know, I could help her find work. One of my friends would give her a character."
"That's good of you, sire, but I don't think she'd stick it. Why, sir, she can earn more blunt in a night, seeing company like she does, that she could in a month as a moll-slavey, or in one of them factories. And the works ain't so hard, and she's got more liberty, like. What's being on the square got to offer, compared to that?"
"Self-respect," suggested Julian doubtfully.
"Self-respect's a fine thing, sir, but you can't eat it, nor drink it, nor put a red feather on it and tie it under the chin."
Julian had no answer to this.

Sally expresses her interest in Kestrel but is rebuffed gently.

He regarded her thoughtfully. "Why have you been telling me all this?"
"'Coz you was blue-deviled, and I wanted to cheer you up. If you was any other cove, I'd've found better ways to do it than by talking, but you al'ays stalls me off when I make up to you. So I thought I'd talk about Dip, 'coz he's somebody you and me have in common, see?"
"Yes, I see. That was very kind of you, Sally."
"There ain't much I would've do for you, Lightening—if you'd let me."
"You've done more than enough. Would you think me rude if I asked to be alone for a while?"
She glared at him and got up. "Some folks," she said darkly, "wouldn't know a good think if it was to bite 'em in the cods!"

Despite his conversation with Digger, Kestrel tries to approach her directly about helping her to begin a new life.

"I'm proper grateful to you, I'm sure." She curtsied mockingly.
"I didn't mean to offend you. I only thought, if I can be of some use—"
"Well, you can't!" Her face closed up. "I don't want to talk to you no more."
"Wait, Sally, I don't want us to part like this."
"Well, maybe you won't get everything you want. Then you'll know what it's like."
"Would you mind telling me what we're quarrelling about? Just so that I can argue my side properly."

Over time, Kestrel's view of her changes.

"I really did make up my mind from the beginning to keep you at arm's length for Dipper's sake. The trouble was, you'd got under my skin more than I realized—after you left, I couldn't stop thinking about you. And the strangest thing is, I was forever asking myself what I saw in you. I don't know how I could have been in doubt. You're clever and courageous and wholly adorable. What I see in you is what any man with eyes, ears, and blood in his veins would see."

Her opinion of him also changes.

"I used to think a gentleman was a cove with swell togs and carriages, and a handle to his name. Now I knows different. A gentleman is just what it says: a cover as is gentle. Kind to people, treating 'em decent—'specially them as is weaker than you."

After their night of passion...

"If you tell me once more that you can take care of yourself, I'll lock you in the hall cupboard till the investigation is over."
"That's how it al'ays is with coves," she complained. "Lift your heels for 'em, and they thinks they owns you."
"I'm not going to argue with you about this. Do you think I could let anything happen to you, after last night?"

Another interesting aspect of ABV is the relationship between MacGregor, the doctor-surgeon, and Kestrel. They met first in CTTQ and their relationship was rather involved there. Here, there's just some bits of it, but what's there is good.

"Julian smiled and said quietly, "My dear fellow, than you for that lecture. You've proved that not all strengthening elixirs come out of bottles."

And so I turn over the comments to Sunita, Liz, and any of you who'd like to participate.


Liz Mc2 said...

One of the things I enjoyed about this one was the patterning--that is, the way it explored different kinds of women and the agency/choice/power each had, which wasn't what I might hav expected.

Sally really has the most freedom, although she also faces a lot of risk. (I am going to forget other names here). Then you have the impoverished young woman in love with her cousin, who is contemplating a marriage to a wealthy man. She THINKS of herself as not much better than a prostitute (I wonder if that was really an anachronistic view, although certainly there were people at the time opposed to mercenary marriages--that shows up in Pride and Prejudice, for instance. She's left in a pretty precarious position at the end, and I wonder if she will really be better off if she's persuaded to marry her cousin after all, and look after his daughter. And then you have the murder victim, who becomes a victim in her attempt to cast off the restraints of her family and marry for love. And the Irish woman at the reformatory, who exercises power OVER others, and who uses charity in a very cynical way to move on to a more secure life. How much control of her life is she really going to have, I wondered, maneuvering within the role she is playing? Sometimes this patterning felt too heavy-handed but it was interesting. That was the aspect of the book I enjoyed most.

This is another book with a vulnerable woman as victim, which I am tired of, but Sally really helped balance that out for me. I did think Kestrel rescuing the child from trafficking was TOO much women-and-children-in-jeopardy for me.

Despite finding Sally appealing myself, I didn't really buy the relationship between her and Kestrel, but I thought his attraction to Isobel (??) was under-motivated in the first book--and really, what lady was he NOT attracted to in that first one? he seems very susceptible, so I rolled with it.

Keira Soleore said...


Great point about exploring agency and power with different types of women. Sally does have the most power over her destiny and wants it to be that way. At one point she tells the mouse that she hates being cooped up (in more ways than one). She resists Kestrel's offer of a "better" life.

The women of the nobility had the least power over their destinies. Dynastic marriages or those for money were usually the ones contracted for or by them. Mary and Ada are both in the same boat, except that Mary tries to get out of that choice and ends up making a much worse one. Ada feels she's being given her heart's desire but it's really a tarnished future that she now has in store for her.

Kestrel is the first book reminded me of Captain Kirk, every female was fair game. Here, I really felt like he saw Sally as an individual and I enjoyed seeing how his initial opinion of her changed.

Anonymous said...

I had pretty mixed feelings about this one. I liked all the relationships but I didn't really buy the Kestrel/Sally one, and his intimacy with Dipper seems slightly off. Not that a gentleman can't be close with his manservant, of course he can, but the way it is written doesn't seem quite right. Kestrel is supposed to be both slightly raffish but also highly esteemed by the ton, and this chameleon quality is starting to stretch my credulity. As for Kestrel and Sally, however bright and interesting she is, she's not educated, and I just don't see a lot of points of commonality between them in terms of a relationship. Maybe I wasn't supposed to, but at times during the story I felt as if I was supposed to accept that they could have a long-term relationship and I just didn't.

The mystery context was interesting, but I admit I am really tired of young women in distress (and worse). The villains were so villainous. And I didn't believe the young scion could have kept that secret for so long.

I still like the series, but I think I need to take a break from it for a while.

Anonymous said...

And I should say, I did like Sally quite a bit. And it was nice to see the doctor again.

Thanks for hosting, Keira!

Liz Mc2 said...

I love the doctor, and I've read other books with similar characters I have also loved. I want a series with that character as the lead, not a secondary figure!

Keira Soleore said...

I really like the doctor as well. I liked that he had a much larger role to play in the first book. His involvement in this book felt very unsatisfactory. I hope he gets more on-screen time in the third book.

Keira Soleore said...


I'm usually very leery of master-servant chumminess. Unlike how rom handles it (best buds), I liked that there was a clear separation of rank between Kestrel and Dipper. So from that standpoint I bought into their communicating at a friendlier level.

Kestrel was given short shrift in terms of character growth in this book, because Sally got so much attention. Like how CS Harris grows Sebastian St. Cyr with every book, Kestrel needs to grow as well to keep him interesting.