In case you missed my mission statement post, I’m undertaking a reading marathon to enjoy all four mysteries in the Taylor & Rose Secret Agents series leading up to the blog tour celebrating the publication of the finale Nightfall in New York!
Mission Report incoming…. (SPOILER FREE! it was so hard)
However it is inevitable to slightly spoiler the end of Villains in Venice to know why they are going to New York but no names!.
It is 10 days since the showdown in Venice and the team are in a quandary whether to believe, let alone act on the ransom note from the Black Dragon. If they want to save their friend they must put aside all that values and ethics and surrender the Draco almanac.
Meanwhile ‘spy fever’ is ongoing another of Billy stories has been edited to imply a German spy threat, and Sophie won’t even let Carruthers take the book to the Chief.
However this time the girls will not be alone as Billy, Mei and Tilly insist on coming along too. The Chief cannot endorse the mission officially, but doesn’t prevent them from going because the intelligence suggest Fraternitas is planning something huge.
Carruthers books passage for them on the brand-new oceanliner the RMS Thalassa, then a shadowy figure discreetly takes the Almanac, right from the safe itself.
Meanwhile Princess Anna of Arnovia has just been invited by her best friend to spend Easter in New York travelling on her uncle’s ship RMS Thalassa.
Initial Thoughts after reading up the opening chapters:
America in this period is young, hungry and still only a few generations from the Civil War. It is a place of fast, dangerous wealth from gold rushes, oil, new industries, building and business.
America is the petulant young upstart keen to compete on the world stage but undergoing momentous change and for every millionaire is the sweat, blood and tears of the poor and immigrants stoking the fires of industry desperate for their own American dream.
Indeed prior to the events of this book New York has undergone a massive population spurt and growth in wealth but is still hugely divided in access to that wealth and further segregated in its rich diversity. Politics are problematic and stagnated because of the conflict between maintaining the system, liberal reform groups clamouring for change, and the control by criminal gangs putting a stranglehold on progress and justice.
A year before the events of Nightfall in New York, the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire highlighted and encapsulates the situation in this period of New York; one of the deadliest industrial disasters in US history where Italian and Irish immigrant women burned to death behind locked doors and then the guilty owners were not only acquitted but then awarded $400 ( $11,000 or £8000 today) compensation per lost worker.
Therefore the historical context that I can see appearing within Nightfall in New York should highlight the juxtaposition of rich and poor in New York and make some reference to corruption in the political and legal system, enabling gangs and groups like our fictional Fraternitas to easily take a hold. I feel there may also be issues around immigration, labour and the rights of the worker because this is a period of great change but it was more often fuelled by outrage at tragedy such as the laws brought in AFTER the fire disaster rather than by preemptive philanthropy amongst the upper classes.
You can’t really talk about April 1912 without making some reference to the Titanic. In the real world this great tragedy had an enormous impact across the Western World but markedly on the city of New York which was where the Carpathia brought the survivors in and the epicentre from which news of the loss spread.
However, honestly, whilst the Titanic disaster itself is great for fiction, surely it is too much for one novel and our team to not only deal with a major disaster, thrilling rescue and a finale to an entire series, so I’m wondering what Katherine is going to do about this, because the way the Thalassa is talked about suggests it is representing the Titanic. Surely there is some kind of link?
- Will the sinking be a Fraternitas plot rather than an iceberg?
- Or is there going to be a twist of fate- will somehow the girls save the Thalassa – as fiction doesn’t have to follow reality, showing what may have happened had the Titanic iceberg been spotted?
- Or gods forbid it’s another plot device to split them all up!!!!
- Also how many references to the film are there going to be? (Editing Lily: OH SO MANY! but no spoilers!)
Okay let’s get to plot.
Nightfall in New York so far really has the feel of a finale, everyone has slowly proven their worth across a series and now they get to work as a team and then there is Princess Anna, so who else is going to come back? Roberta Russell has appeared in all the books so far so she MUST be in it! Forsyth? Brooks? Ada Pickering considering it’s in America? Will Mitya or Paolo be immigrating to America? What about the Grey Man, will the German spies return?
The big question is whether ‘our friend’ really is alive or this is just a horrid ruse to learn the team to New York and take the almanac which brings us to the question how can Sophie bear to handover the almanac? She knows the potential of evil within it and yet she’s going to hand it over to the enemy who want to use it for profit and gain.
Furthermore, who took the almanac from the safe and why? To copy it? To swap with a dummy book? To hand it to the British government? To Fraternitas? To the Germans? It’s all very curious.
I find it a bit sad Carruthers is going back to filing in this book after such growth. Maybe he is going to appear later on in the book to the rescue or will there be an American version of Carruthers or is Billy being brought in to fill that part? Or (please no) he took the Almanac from the safe or worse will appear by Mrs Davenport’s side in the showdown.
Finally, I found it very interesting to see both the self-doubt and maturation thinking in Sophie. She realises that she can’t do it alone, that she berates herself for it, but equally she realises her privilege when reflecting on the restrictions of freedom that Mei and Tilly still face and more clearly so in America. I have a feeling that this change of mindset and awakening to the world is going to play a huge part across this novel.
Having completed my read and made notes as I go along, overall this novel is just perfection! So many wonderful and clever pieces of storycraft, cultural references and fun! But NO SPOILERS!
Oh how I delighted in Reading Nightfall in New York. Like I have said to previous books in the series Woodfine is a master of sensory immersion in place and time.
From on-board the RMS Thalassa and its decadent beauty especially in the first-class areas and then the closeness of bodies down in Third class supping on beef tea and biscuits.
We have the gangs of New York, and the starch snobbery of the 400, then the candy floss, sea salt and carnival music of Coney Island. We have the concrete dreams of New York moving through us as we read the and feel whispers, songs, hopes and dreams of millions of immigrants searching for a better life swirl amidst the pages from the hopeful arrivals to the children of Chinatown.
However, Woodfine doesn’t let us be completely taken in by the glamour of New York. Repeatedly, she makes it very clear about the juxtaposition between rich and poor and the reality of immigrants moving from one place of poverty and exploitation to another.
It’s repeated and touched upon at several points in the novel but is particularly encapsulated within the scene where Sophie is sharing a cab with a fellow traveller who shows her the sites but warns her not to be fooled, there is a Darkside to New York.
“for every grand new apartment block there is a rotten old tenement where families are living squashed up together with no sanitation… And for every shiny new skyscraper there is a sweatshop the kids are working for a pittance”to Sophie
Nightfall in New York is a real “finale” piece. It feels like one of those mid second act all-cast or ensemble songs that layer different melodies and stories building to a key scene like the Tonight Quintet from West side story leads to the rumble.
We have the reappearance of characters like Princess Anna (and more!!!!) and the involvement of the whole Taylor & Rose team. There are echos and returns to themes from previous books as well as people, events or occurrences such as the frustration of women, deception and even past villains.
This togetherness is lovely to see because the girls have basically been apart for the entire series, now they are together, bouncing off each other, bringing their skills and empathy to a common cause. Also they see how much each other has grown and changed that they may not have seen in previous stories, and when they feel like giving in Mei and Tilly stand up and shake them into fervour again.
It was gratifying to see Mei and Tilly stepping up and being involved rather thankeepibg the home fires burning, and more so that they could empower Sophie and Lil just as the girls had empowered them.
Female empowerment is key theme that reappears again and again and Sophie says it best when she says
“We working women should stick together“Sophie
Woodfine goes to great lengths to model the idea of raising fellow women and girls up in the novel rather than encouraging them to tear each other down. We can even feel empathy for the incredible villain Mrs Davenport as Woodfine reveals the reasons for being part of Fraternitas and what it has cost to become The Black Dragon.
Equally Sophie goes out of her way to encourage her fellow women, from the praise of Mei’s undercover abilities to actively helping other women’s businesses and ambitions. Sophie changes her mind about characters being challenges to her success and sees the various women working hard, doing their best trying to prove herself in a man’s world and Sophie makes the momentous decision to be an ally not an opponent.
Sophie teaches the reader that when we trust and lift each other up the load is lightened for all of us, and then all of us have the room to succeed, beautiful lessons for young readers.
The truth is Taylor & Rose had to end here in the last days of innocence before World War I, like Robin Stevens recognised her beloved protagonists had outgrown middle grade, so now have Sophie and Lil as they turn 18.
This doesn’t mean the stories are no longer interesting or aren’t there to be mined for future novels it’s just that the days of Sophie and Lil in middle grade are over, and indeed I personally would like to leave them some happiness before World War I tears apart their lives.
Of course, there is room for rebranding or spin-offs maybe Mei and Tilly or even ‘the Princess Detective’ should Anna join them! Perhaps Taylor–Quinn Investigate or even some reboot featuring the children or grandchildren of these original cast members standing up as the dragons rise again.
But Taylor & Rose… have come to a natural and fitting close.
Across the novels we have seen our protagonists grow and change in young women and reflect on how different they are from the girls they once were, and not just themselves, the whole cast. Mei who was terrified of an omnibus finding it in herself to be able to command waiters and extract information. Princess Anna, tired of school girl gossip and fashion is wanting more from life than just a marriage. Billy, from shy boy to published author, and of others well, no spoilers.
The most important lesson of this though is a subtle one but incredibly powerful. As Woodfine takes us through the change of mindset we like Sophie and Lil realise the world is not binary. Nothing is black-and-white, it’s a spectrum and a circle and we are but pendulums swinging depending on our morals, choices, environment and experience.
As Sophie puts it
“the truth was she was no longer so certain what was right and what was wrong any longer“
It is a hard truth that the simplistic Fables and moral stories of childhood where right is separated from wrong may provide a moral compass but aren’t always as simple to apply or detect as an adult, and that no one really prepares you for that.
Furthermore, to feel empathy for a villain’s motivations but abhorred by their actions is an incredibly clever move by Woodfine– it is easy to make people who do bad things seem unreal, to caricature them into monsters, it is harder to recognise their humanity and flaws and comprehend their reasoning, for it is hard to accept the potential within us all for bad and monstrous decisions as well as good.
And thus overall, most powerfully of all, it is our hearts and deeds that define us not the words, labels and limits of others, as Sophie has grown from shy orphan shopgirl to a young woman with the world at her feet, so our young readers can see the power and potential within themselves too.
Looking back and forwards:
Thank you Katherine for this incredible journey with Sophie and Lil from the days of Sinclairs to the streets of New York. Our incredible talent and meticulous historical research truly brings delight whether one can see the hard work or not which in itself shows the absolute genius of your work, the hidden frames of historical reference unspooling into young minds via marvellous thrilling mystery.
Thank you for creating this cast of characters, and taking me on a reawakening of my historical knowledge, for the diversity of your characters I adore you, thank you for showing that the United Kingdom has ALWAYS been more diverse than certain narratives would suggest.
Thank you for the tears, for the squeals of shock at 1am making my dog look at me like I had gone nuts, for making me sing a variety of songs as I access each cinematic reference, particularly in Nightfall in New York from ‘My Heart will go on’ to ‘Somewhere out There’ intermingled with the occasional ‘start spreading the news….’
Thank you to the work of the editor Sarah Levison for bringing the best out of these books and encouraging the magic out of Katherine.
Thank you to illustrator supreme Karl J Mountford and designer Laura Bird for making these books the incredible experience they are cover to cover. I knew that if I wrote about your contribution before now, I would no doubt give away all the magic! If as a reader you don’t value the contribution of illustrators, you need to wake up and pay attention.
Whoever had the idea to let Karl illustrate is wonderful but genius for turning Karl’s talent to illustrating paperwork. Karl has just as much of a hand in leading us in clues and red herrings throughout the novel through the wonderful epistolary illustrations. As a young reader, I always adored ‘paperwork’ in a novel, forms, letters, files, anything and it is a part of the absolute MAGIC of this series. Pro-tip always, always read the Daily Picture at the start of the novel for clues and I highly recommend you read the interview with the duo on Frances’ Durkin’s blog The Historian Next Door!
And thank you to Nina Douglas and the publicity team at Farshore for believing in my idea of Mission Taylor & Rose and the books to achieve it. I hope it has brought smiles and memories to you and established fans, and indeed made people pick up Peril in Paris to read more themselves.
I can’t wait to see what Katherine turns her hand to next, I for one will be waiting with baited breath, and til then…
for more reviews and content on Nightfall in New York please check out the Blog Tour!
Have you read or planning to read Nightfall in New York?
What did you think of Mission Taylor & Rose?