By Anushka Dey
Find a refined version of this article on The Ruskin Journal!
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, already imagining women in hoop skirts and men in funny trousers waltzing around a ballroom. How can any sane person of the 21st century ever relate to ‘those’ posh people? But l bet you, when you read the Storm and Silence Saga by Robert Thier– or as we readers call him, Sir Rob– you will definitely relate.
Lillian Linton is a nineteen-year-old: free-spirited, fiery, feminist. When, for most members of the fair sex, the greatest desire is to look lovely, get married to wealthy men, and be good little wifeys, Lilly’s longing for freedom makes her quite a unique exception. The quick wit and courage she shows throughout the series is commendable. However, this is not the end; her rich, colourful vocabulary with ear-burning insults, sass, and sarcasm make the readers absolutely fall in love with this character.
Thanks to her quest for equality, Lilly goes to the polling station in guise of a man where a chance encounter with a mysterious man changes her whole life.
This ‘mysterious man’ is Mr Rikkard Ambrose, the richest man of the British Empire (emphasis on the). After a hasty interaction with Lilly, he finds the very attributes he was looking for a personal assistant and offers her the job considering her the suitable ‘man’ for the job. Soon, after parting, when her true identity is revealed and she is arrested; the business mogul is left astounded.
After knowing her true gender, Mr Ambrose denies to grant her the job. But sharp-witted Lilly plays it up to his honour as a gentleman and Mr Ambrose, being a man of his words, has to employ her, under the conditions that she pretend 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 with 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, and a penny-pinching miser in almost every sense except for romance.
When it comes to women, he, like most of the other men of society, believes women are incapable of work and their place is indoors, or in Lilly’s words, “a chauvinistic son of a bachelor.” His beliefs and continuous threats to life that the work offers, makes him attempt to fire ‘Mr Linton’ numerous times throughout the series.
Again, we have the rare pleasure to find the mighty Mr Ambrose’s sly plans go in vain.
But the dangers that Mr Ambrose expects aren’t imaginary at all. Under the threats of his greatest business rival, Lord Dalgliesh, or more aptly Dogleash (as the readers have dubbed him, among other unscrupulous nicknames), Lilly and Ambrose have to venture into foreign lands together, their only constant companion being Karim, Mr Ambrose’s devoted right-hand, a massive mountain for a bodyguard. Each life threatening expedition changes the casual employer-employee relationship to something deeper, and Lillian is determined not to leave the side of her employer through these deadly missions for reasons she doesn’t dare acknowledge nor admit.
Through the books, we notice how bit by bit, from bickering and bantering, they gradually develop a grudging respect for each other. It is a real fun to behold: Lilly battling with her unacknowledged attraction towards her granite statue for an employer. Lilly’s inner monologue is the most amusing part. Her wanting to drown in his dark ocean eyes and then immediately cursing herself for such unfeminist attitude: how she describes Rikkard Ambrose 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 totally 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 these two people are not polar opposites, but complementary to each other.
When 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 his face. Lilly with her volcanic anger and Mr 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 above all, love. We see how, from Mr Ambrose’s personal assistant, she becomes ‘his little ifrit’.
I wouldn’t be doing justice to the story if l were to skip the sweet and sour relationship of ‘Prince Fragrant Yellow Flower in Happy Moonlight ‘ & ‘Woman Worse Than Ifrit’. Oh! I was only talking about Karim and Lillian in their respective nicknames they gave each other. Cute, isn’t it? They hate each other’s guts until a danger comes up. The childish and teasing nature of their relationship is humorous.
Now, when you have a suffrage group to lead, work full-time for a cold block of stone of a man, and suitors to dissuade, you definitely need some entertainment in your life, don’t you now? 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 is common: in either pair, love is always blooming, whether worded or not.
So, how will Lilly survive the world regulated by the unwritten rule of ‘Knowledge is power is time is money’? How does Lilly deal with those arctic glares of ocean-coloured eyes that could freeze anybody on spot? What excuses will she make to her aunt and beloved sister Ella and dear suffragist friends for her regular absence caused 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 her and her five other sisters off? Is there really a ‘guardian angel’ that protects Lilly from unwanted suitors? Or better question is it the work of some divine entity or a certain someone? Is it merely rivalry for 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?
To quench the thirst of your curiosity l would suggest you to read this series: a journey full of humour, thrilling adventures, and slow burning romance, the rich knowledge of etiquette, vocabulary, and mannerisms of Victorian era being a bonus.
Image Courtesy: Soyeenka Mishra
Location: Bhubaneswar, India