By Anushka Dey
Have you ever related to a nineteen-year-old girl from the nineteenth century?
I know many of you must be scrunching your nose at the mention of the Victorian era; some of you may already be imagining women in hoop skirts and men in funny trousers waltzing around a grand ballroom. How can anyone from the twenty-first century relate to those upper-class stereotypes of a by-gone age? But l bet you, when you read the ‘Storm and Silence’ series by Robert Thier – or as some readers call him, Sir Rob – you will definitely want to relate to some of them.
Warning: this review will contain spoilers.
Lillian Linton is a nineteen-year-old free-spirited, fiery, feminist. When, for most members of the ‘fair sex’, the expectation is to look fashionable, get married to a wealthy man, and be a ‘good little wife’, Lilly’s longing for freedom makes her quite a unique exception. While the courage and wit she shows throughout the series is commendable, it’s her rich and colourful vocabulary mixed with ear-burning insults, sass, and sarcasm that makes readers absolutely fall in love with her character.
Amid her quest for equality, Lilly goes to the polling station in the guise of a man, and a chance encounter with a mysterious figure changes her whole life. This ‘mysterious man’ is Mr Rikkard Ambrose, the richest man in the British Empire (emphasis on “the”). After a hasty interaction with Lilly, he finds the very attributes he was looking for in a personal assistant and considers her as a suitable ‘man’ for the job. Soon after parting, when her true identity is revealed, she is arrested; the business mogul is left astounded.
After discovering her true gender, Mr Ambrose initially denies granting her the job, but sharp-witted Lilly plays up to his honour as a gentleman. Mr Ambrose then, being a man of his word, has to employ her, under the conditions that she pretends to be a man when working in his office, to save his reputation. Very tactful of him, isn’t it?
Besides being a devious businessman, Mr Ambrose has a ruthless, intimidating demeanour. A man shrouded in mystery, his very name demands respect and is capable of inflicting fear into others. Clad in his ‘ten-year-old mint condition tailcoat’, he stands as an utterly stingy, penny-pinching miser in almost every way possible.
When it comes to women and romance, he, like most other men of that time and class, believes that women are incapable of work and that their place is indoors (in Lilly’s words, he is a ‘chauvinistic son of a bachelor’). His beliefs and continuous threats to his livelihood even makes him attempt to fire ‘Mr Linton’, Lilly’s false persona, several times throughout the series.
Later on in the series, we have the rare pleasure of finding out that the mighty Mr Ambrose’s plans go to waste, but the dangers which he perceives aren’t as imaginary as they once seemed. With the threat of his greatest business rival, Lord Dalgliesh, or more aptly ‘Dog Leash’, Lilly and Ambrose must venture forth into foreign lands. Their only constant companion is Karim, Mr Ambrose’s devoted right-hand man and bodyguard. Each life-threatening expedition helps to grow the relationship between Lilly and Ambrose, gradually evolving it into something deeper. Lillian becomes determined not to leave the side of her employer through these deadly missions for reasons that the author leaves unexamined for the most part.
Through the books, we notice how bit-by-bit, from bickering and bantering, Lilly and Ambrose gradually develop a grudging respect for each other. It’s fun to behold Lilly battling with her unacknowledged attraction towards her granite statue for an employer. Her inner monologue is the most amusing part of this particular sub-plot. Her wanting to ‘drown in his dark ocean eyes’ and then immediately cursing herself for having such thoughts: how she describes Rikkard Ambrose is as ‘a manly man with a lot of mannishness in his manliness’; how she finds moments spent with her ‘Dicky Dum Dums’ somehow more precious and wonderful than the chocolate that she most adores.
However, Lilly isn’t the only one wrestling with her feelings. The mighty Ambrose is observed to be constantly reminding himself that it is a ‘he’, not ‘she’, for avoiding ‘distractions’. It is a journey where you realise that these two people are not polar opposites, but complementary to each other.
Whereas Lilly is a shameless self-expresser, Rikkard is mostly the master of silence. When an impish grin plays on Lilly’s lips, there is a cold emotionless mask on Ambrose’ face. Lilly with her volcanic anger and Ambrose with his icy disdain. We slowly observe how Mr Rikkard Ambrose, a source of curt, cold commands, becomes a source of warmth, comfort, and eventually, love. We see how, from Mr Ambrose’ personal assistant, Lily becomes ‘his little ifrit’.
I wouldn’t be doing the story justice if l were to skip the sweet and sour relationship of ‘Prince Fragrant Yellow Flower in Happy Moonlight’ and ‘Woman Worse Than Ifrit’. Ohh! I was only talking about Karim and Lillian in their respective nicknames that they gave each other. Cute, isn’t it? They hate each other’s guts until dangers around the corner, and the childish and teasing nature of their relationship truly shines in some scenes.
Now, when you have a suffrage group to lead, work full-time for a cold block of stone of a man, and have suitors to dissuade, you definitely need some entertainment in your life, don’t you? Luckily, our heroine has her little sister Ella and Edmund’s gooey twilight trysts to witness. Ella and Edmund’s relationship is quite a stark contrast to the romantic relationship between Rikkard and Lillian. It is saccharine and superfluous, but one thing remains in common: in both of them, love is always blooming, whether it’s put to words or not.
So, how will Lilly survive in a world regulated by the unwritten rule of ‘knowledge is power, is time, is money’? How does Lilly deal with those arctic glares from Ambrose’ ocean-coloured eyes? What excuses will she make to her aunt, her beloved sister Ella, and her dear suffragist friends for her regular absence due to work? How will she avoid a bunch of crazy suitors when her aunt’s prying eyes are always in search of eligible bachelors to marry both Lilly and her five other sisters off to? Is there really a ‘guardian angel’ that is protecting Lilly from these unwanted suitors? Or, better question, is it the work of a divine entity, or a certain someone? Is it merely rivalry for the business that makes Dalgliesh the greatest nemesis of Rikkard Ambrose, or is there a different story? Was Mr Ambrose always a stone-cold man? If not, then what was his past?
For the curious and the inquisitive, l recommend that you read this series. It’s a journey full of humour, thrilling adventures, slow-burning romance, with the rich knowledge of etiquette, vocabulary and mannerisms of the Victorian-era being a bonus.