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#11 = Wrapped by Jennifer Bradbury

WRAPPED by Jennifer Bradbury

jacket flap blurb

Agnes Wilkins makes a lovely debutante. She’s stunning, poised, and always wrapped in stylish, one-of-a-kind gowns. But her well-plotted future—filled with husband, home, and high society—is about to come unraveled…and she couldn’t be more pleased.

For a girl like Agnes, 1815 London doesn’t offer many options…until she uncovers a secret. A misplaced mummy holds a mystery that could be her way out of stuffy parties and strained elegance…but it also sets off a string of catastrophes that could become someone else’s undoing. A chance accident? Her true destiny? It’s hard to say. But for Agnes there’s no turning back.

thoughts

While all in all enjoyable, I thought the romance between Agnes and Caedmon was too prominent in the story. The jacket-flap is extremely vague, so I’ll have to give a (sort of) quick summary for anything to make any sense at all.

So, Agnes goes to a party of sorts hosted by her highly sought-after suitor, Lord Showalter. It is a “unwrapping” wherein Showalter presents them with a wrapped mummy, and various people take turns cutting into the wrappings in the hopes of finding little trinkets and other valuables. Because Showalter is courting her, Agnes is naturally one of the first to have a (reluctant) go. Agnes is one of those people who dislikes this idea of essentially stealing Egypt’s (and other “exotic” countries’) priceless artifacts and treating them as nothing but a game. Which, of course, I found immensely likable. I’ll talk more about it later.

So, unsurprisingly, Agnes finds an artifact, a little metal jackal head. Because someone else had just found something, she was able to slip into her bodice. She reasons that it isn’t really stealing because Showalter already said the could keep whatever they found. And then the museum calls: this is actually a very important mummy, and it was mixed up with the one that was intended to be sent to Showalter. So all the trinkets are returned. All except the one Agnes has.

She doesn’t particularly know what to do with it. She knows it’s important, because at the party, she was walking in the garden and someone suspicious followed her. She evaded him, but that, combined with the museum’s call, has her convinced this is a very important artifact. Eventually she ends up at the museum to ask about it, claiming that she found it a year or so ago. This is where she meets Caedmon, who works at the museum. They discover invisible ink writing on the artifact with a message intended for Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte, who recently escaped exile on Elis island and now, once again, threatens England. The message speaks of “W’s standard.” They piece together that “W” stands for Wepwawet, an important Egyptian deity. And his standard supposedly has the power to make the bearer invincible and give the ability to raise an army of the dead to fight for them. Even if it can’t do this supposed feat, it will still be able to boost moral and turn the tide of war firmly to Napoleon’s side.

They do eventually find the standard, all the while sneaking about at the same time that Agnes is forced to court Showalter. One of her servants, Clarisse, helps her because she’s something of a romantic and thinks Agnes is sneaking off to be with her “beau.” The standard is hidden on Showalter’s property, unbeknownst to Showalter himself. However, it does turn out that Showalter is a French spy, and it was him that the message was originally supposed to reach. Agnes and Caedmon beat him, and get the standard to Agnes’s father, who’s fairly high-ranking, and save the day.

Now, I liked how Showalter was written. It was believable and realistic. At the beginning, he was convincingly dislikable in that way some supposedly “magnetic” people are dislikable, for no particular feeling. Just a gut instinct sort of thing. And further on, he was decent, but neither threatening, hatable, or lovable. He was just sort amiable—which was perfect. I admit, I didn’t see it coming that he was a spy (all though how Agnes ended up besting him was rather obvious).

Caedmon was pretty awesome. He wasn’t super-annoying, like some love interests are, but neither was he without any flaws whatsoever perfect little angel. There were things I liked about him, and there were things I didn’t. I liked his personality, I liked how he fit with Agnes, and I liked the way he got when he talked about his passion (Egyptology, obviously).

I didn’t like how he could be kind of…I’m not sure what the word is. Eurocentric? Anglophile-ish? Disdainful of other nations? I don’t know, but I didn’t like it. I also didn’t like how he seemed to fall in love with Agnes after like two seconds. I’m not a fan of insta-love/love at first sight, especially when it’s only in one of the halves of the relationship. But his eurocentricity/anglophiliness/whatever wasn’t a big issue. I wouldn’t even bring it up if it wasn’t for one particular scene that I really hate. So my only real issue with Caedmon is how he falls so fast for Agnes, and then he just has to kind of wait, pathetically, to see if she returns it. I don’t know if it’s realistic or not—it probably is—but it doesn’t seem quite in line with his character, or some of his other actions.

Agnes’s brothers were also well-written. They didn’t have very large parts, but what we saw of them was good. I especially liked Rupert. Agnes isn’t Rupert’s biggest fan, and neither is he hers. They are those kinds of siblings. But Rupert’s not a villain, he isn’t there just so Agnes can have a slightly-annoying brother. He is, actually, complex and fleshed-out. We saw even less of Agnes’s other brother, Daniel, and he was likable in that bland, pleasant way nice characters without a lot of screen time are. But Agnes looks up to him, and that was written nicely; I could look up to him, too.

Agnes’s parents are kind of like that, with her father as Rupert and her mother as Daniel. Her father is far more fleshed out that her mother, and it shows. But her mother is so unimportant, all things considered, to the story it doesn’t matter all that much. It wasn’t a major detractor.

Guess what was a major detractor? As I started off with, the prominence of the romance between Agnes and Caedmon. Now, I have nothing against romance. I like a good romance. But there are books that should be mainly about the romance and there are books where the romance should be secondary to the rest of the plot. This was one of those books where it should have been secondary to the rest of the plot.

I mean here you have Agnes, and part of her personality is this stubborn, I-don’t-need-no-man, independent streak. I mean the whole book is this spy/espionage thing about saving England! And it’s clear, right from the get-go, that Agnes loves it. She loves the action, and the mystery, and the fact that it means something. She hates how being a woman means she’s automatically considered second-class, weak, the lesser sex. She has a bone to pick with her society, something to prove.

But instead of this story being all about her, a lot of the plot is devoted to her and Caedmon, and how she feels about Caedmon, and whether she loves Caedmon, and if he loves her back, and blah blah blah. It seems to opposite to this enormous chunk of who she is that she would spend so much time obsessing over a guy when she’s basically living this life she never dreamed could happen. And I’m just really angry that the author chose to bury this part of her in favor of having the romance be so central to a story whose plot really has nothing to do with it.

And by now, you’re probably wondering about that scene I mentioned. The one where Caedmon bothered me. But first, some more about Agnes, who’s an awesome protagonist. Agnes really believes that artifacts belong where they were made. That there is something inherently wrong in taking things from their mother country, frequently damaging them (often purposefully) on their trip, for the entertainment of people who don’t understand, and never will, their immense significance to their culture of origin.

She feels this at the very beginning, when she’s bothered by, and faintly disgusted by, the “unwrapping” at Showalter’s. And it comes up again on several other occasions, but one especially. Showalter takes Agnes, and her mother as chaperone, to the museum perhaps two-thirds or so through the book. Naturally, Caedmon is there. But Showalter’s just there because he noticed Agnes was interested in Egyptian artifacts and he’s courting her, so two-plus-two is four and he takes her on an outing to see the Egyptian artifacts at the museum.

They are looking at heart scarabs, and Agnes makes the internal comment, “I felt sorry that these objects, which were so dear to the people who’d counted on them so long ago, were now under glass, dismissed by the likes of us who didn’t know their real worth” (Bradbury 225). This is quickly followed by the following conversation:

“‘We are very fortunate that we established such a collection,’ Caedmon said softly.

I surprised myself by speaking. ‘They don’t belong here.’

Showalter leaned in. ‘What’s that?’

I looked quickly between him and Caedmon. ‘They don’t belong here,’ I repeated. ‘They ought to be back with the bodies, or at least back in Egypt where the scarab is understood.’

Caedmon spoke without looking at me. In fact, he’d so far been able to avoid giving any indication of our association. And it bothered me more than I could say. Bothered me that he could see me with Showalter and carry on as if he didn’t even know me. As if he hadn’t been as rattled as I was by how close we’d found ourselves last night.

‘Perhaps the work the museum does to help people understand outweighs—’

‘No,’ I said firmly. ‘We don’t want to understand them. We want to gawk at them and congratulate ourselves for having such precious things. Things we’ve rescued from ignorant savages around the world—’

Caedmon set his jaw, nostrils flaring, finally angry, finally showing something for me other than polite deference. ‘You presume too much,’ he said. ‘You’re dead wrong to paint every person interested in antiquities or other lands with the same brush.’

‘But they belong in Egypt!’ I said, pleased that some of his true speech was slipping out, that the mask of the academic was failing him.

‘They belong where they can best be understood,’ Caedmon said evenly. ‘And perhaps the greatest gift we can give the people of Egypt in return is the benefit of our research. So that they might better understand their own history—’

‘Now who presumes?’ I said heatedly. ‘British citizens a thousand miles away know better what it meant to be a subject of the pharaoh?’” (Bradbury 226-227)

What I like about this scene is, of course, Agnes’s comments. What I don’t like is how some of the things Caedmon says seem to exist solely so Agnes can tell him how he’s wrong, and challenge the way of thinking about it all that was so prevalent at the time, and is still an issue today. But I could get over that. I could.

If the author hadn’t reduced every word that came out of Agnes’s mouth to baiting. According to the author, I’m supposed to believe that Agnes says things things not because she believes them—though there’s more than ample proof that she does—but simply because she wants a reaction from Caedmon. In this, the author is lowering something important to have a lesser value than it should.

Just like she’s doing with the whole story by forcing Agnes and Caedmon’s romance to take center stage.

rating out of five stars

★★★☆☆

 

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