6 Rated Books Book Reviews

Book Review: Wrapped by Jennifer Bradbury

Title: Wrapped

Author: Jennifer Bradbury

Genre: Mystery, Historical, Regency, Young Adult

Publisher: Athenium (S&S)
Publication Date: May 2011
Hardcover: 320 Pages

Agnes Wilkins is standing in front of an Egyptian mummy, about to make the first cut into the wrappings, about to unlock ancient (and not-so-ancient) history.

Maybe you think this girl is wearing a pith helmet with antique dust swirling around her.

Maybe you think she is a young Egyptologist who has arrived in Cairo on camelback.

Maybe she would like to think that too. Agnes Wilkins dreams of adventures that reach beyond the garden walls, but reality for a seventeen-year-old debutante in 1815 London does not allow for camels—or dust, even. No, Agnes can only see a mummy when she is wearing a new silk gown and standing on the verdant lawns of Lord Showalter’s estate, with chaperones fussing about and strolling sitar players straining to create an exotic “atmosphere” for the first party of the season. An unwrapping.

This is the start of it all, Agnes’s debut season, the pretty girl parade that offers only ever-shrinking options: home, husband, and high society. It’s also the start of something else, because the mummy Agnes unwraps isn’t just a mummy. It’s a host for a secret that could unravel a new destiny—unleashing mystery, an international intrigue, and possibly a curse in the bargain.

Get wrapped up in the adventure . . . but keep your wits about you, dear Agnes.

Stand alone or series: Can be read as a stand alone novel, but with potential for future novels (considering the book’s ending)

How did I get this book: Bought

Why did I read this book: I will be completely shallow and say: The Cover. That is one mighty fine looking cover, isn’t it? It caught my eye, and only then did I learn that the book was actually a historical mystery, and I’ve been in a historical mystery type of mood.

Review:

Agnes Wilkins is sixteen, about to make her societal debut, and more than a little terrified at the prospect of coming out on the marriage market. Though Agnes is excited to attend parties, wear fancy dresses, loves her parents and is willing to emulate their dutiful roles in the peerage, she can’t help but feel that she isn’t quite ready for a husband. She longs for the adventure and romance she reads of in her darling A Lady novels (those anonymously written novels that include Mansfield Park, Sense and Sensibility, and Pride and Prejudice) and yearns for something more from life. So, when she is invited to the most eligible bachelor’s home for her debut, one Lord Showalter, to attend a highly sensationalistic and unorthodox mummy unwrapping, Agnes is thrilled. She’s even more thrilled (though terrified) when she’s singled out by charming host Lord Showalter as the first guest invited to help remove the linens from the mummy in front of the entire party. When Agnes discovers a small iron figure in her ministrations, she secretly slips it into her bodice – even though she and the other guests have been promised that they can take home whatever trinkets they find in the mummy’s wrappings, Agnes follows some unknown impulse, not wanting anyone to know she has the figurine. Shortly after her small act of adventurous theft, Agnes decides to catch some air to calm her nerves only to be chased by one of the serving staff – for whatever reason, she cannot comprehend. Though she manages to elude her pursuer and return to the party, she discovers that the evening has been called to an abrupt end as an urgent message from the Museum reveals the mummy to be quite more important a specimen than Lord Showalter had earlier presumed.

Shortly thereafter, a man is discovered dead, his neck snapped violently. As fate would have it, it’s the same man that had chased Agnes on the grounds outside.

Suspecting the death could be more than a mere coincidence, this enterprising polyglot of a debutante finds herself ensnared in a mystery of spies, secrets, and the supernatural. With the help of a surly (but unmistakably handsome) Museum employee, Agnes must get to the bottom of the mystery behind the mummy – for the fate of England herself rests upon Agnes’s fashionable shoulders.

To enjoy Wrapped, one is asked to put aside an enormous mountain of skepticism and must suspend a copious amount of disbelief. Take dear Agnes Wilkins, for example. On top of being remarkably pretty and the daughter of an Earl (who I might mention is quite kindhearted, loves his wife, and believes his daughter to be not only a beautiful girl but also respects and encourages her studies), Agnes is also highly intelligent, well-read, well-versed in politics and current events, and a polyglot that can speak and read TEN languages. Mmm-hmm. There’s a lot of this sort of fantastic silliness throughout the book, and if you’re a natural skeptic, you may not be able to choke it all down. That said, I valiantly attempted to push aside my inner cynic and gave Wrapped as fair a shot as possible. And you know what? Wrapped was diverting. Pleasant. Frothy. Sometimes you want a pleasant and frothy. Certainly, there are worse ways to spend an afternoon.

The first bit that you should probably know about Wrapped is that it is, in fact, a historical spy-mystery, involving espionage of the highest order. Agnes’s England is mired in the last stage of conflict of the Napoleonic Wars, Napoleon having escaped from Elba and tearing through Europe, threatening the United Kingdom in what will prove to be a final, decisive battle. Agnes’s father is an important head of state, and as such, Agnes has been able to glean information about Napoleon’s moves from eavesdropping on her father’s conversations with other influential peers in his study. With her older brother David away at war, sailing for Her Majesty’s Fleet, Agnes is very well-versed in the doings of France, and deeply patriotic. So, when she learns that her recovered supposedly ancient Egyptian trinket is, in fact, part of a French spy’s message apparatus, she is willing to do whatever it takes to solve the mystery for God and Country. Although the nature of the spy-mystery is somewhat predictable (truly, Agnes, you’ll have to have better wits about you if you plan to make a career of spy-hunting), I was pleasantly surprised by this twist in direction – instead of being a paranormal novel about Egyptian curses, it’s much more a pragmatic novel about cloak-and-dagger maneuverings in the days leading up to the battle at Waterloo. Agnes and her Caedmon do their fair share of skulking about in darkness, investigating ancient relics, and evading mysterious ne’er-do-wells, which is all rather fun and entertaining. Of course, there is a sort-of supernatural element to the story, but one can form one’s own opinion as to believe in the powers of Egyptian artifacts (or not).

In terms of characters, Agnes is likeable enough but hard to take seriously because of her ridiculous qualifications and abilities, especially for a girl of her age and station. Caedmon, her love interest, is also quite amiable, though uncommonly intelligent for a poor museum cleaning boy with no connections. Together, the pair make a nice, blandly sweet team – as remarkable and flavorful as tapioca pudding. This is indicative of the story overall: it’s all fine and good, but lacking in any real overall depth. Beyond the banality of the characters, however, the annoyance I had with Wrapped lay in the modern sensibilities that the author would repeatedly hammer home through her characters. Agnes is a well-off young girl in a time when well-off young girls had precious little freedom, and yet she thinks in very modern sensibilities. I know, I know; this is a retrospective fluff novel, but it’s a big pet peeve. Also high on the frustration meter were the repeated, ham-handed references to Jane Austen. There is virtually nothing that grates on my nerves more than an author picking out some literary icon (in this case, Austen) and refers to the works of said icon throughout the book in an attempt to be witty. In Wrapped, not only does Agnes refer to her favorite novels by A Lady, but she quotes, at length, from her favorite Austen books. Repeatedly. In different languages. This level of kitschiness drives me bananas.

Provided that one can ignore the kitsch; provided that one is able to overlook Agnes’s masterful single-handed control of Greek, Russian, Hebrew, and seven other languages (spoken AND written, mind you); provided that one can believe that Agnes and her paramour would be able to thwart a master spy and single-handedly alter the outcome of the Battle of Waterloo…one can enjoy the silly entertainment that is Wrapped. It’s kind of like National Treasure 2 in that way.[1. I say National Treasure 2 and not part one, because the first movie is so much ridiculous fun that you’re willing to overlook ANYTHING. In comparison, Wrapped isn’t even marginally as entertaining. Hence, National Treasure 2.] Diverting, mildly entertaining, and about as enriching as cotton candy. If you’re in the mood for cotton candy, Wrapped could be for you.

Notable Quotes/Parts: From Chapter One:

Put the book down, darling,” my mother said from her chair beside the mirror.

“The chapter’s end is only a short way off,” I replied, reaching out with my other hand to flip the page. Despite the ache in my shoulder from holding the book at arm’s length so the dressmakers could work on my gown, I didn’t want to give it up.

“For heaven’s sake, you’ve read it a dozen times,” Mother said, rising to snatch the book from my hand. I half lunged for it, an action answered by the jabs of a dozen pins in places sensitive enough to ensure the book was lost to me for now.

“It improves each time,” I told her, letting my arms fall, the sensation of the blood rushing back into my fingertips too brief before the dressmaker nudged one elbow upward again.

“Please, miss,” the woman said, gesturing at the bodice, managing to sound even more exasperated with me than Mother had.

I lifted my arms again, posing as if I were about to take flight. According to some, I was. My debut had come, bringing with it Mother’s long-awaited opportunity to parade me about in front of all of London. The dress wrapped itself around me in tucks and folds of silk the color of cream as it stands on the top of a cup of tea, waiting to be stirred in. The trim at the neckline was exquisitely wrought in lace Mother had warned me more than once not to tell Father the price of. I’d pleaded unsuccessfully to have this particular dress made from a shimmering red sari fabric my brother had sent home to me from India. Mother was firm that red was perfectly unsuitable.

She was right, of course, as she was about most everything. She was right that this color was far more appropriate for a girl making a debut, that it would allow me to fit and stand out at the same time. I wasn’t sure I was ready to do either yet. And I was relatively certain I wasn’t prepared to step into society as Mother’s protege. I adored my mother, but I didn’t want to be her. Not yet, anyway.

“You really might at least pretend to be more diverted by all of this,” she complained, turning down a corner of the page of my book before placing it on the dressing table. I fought the urge to beg her to use the scrap of lace I’d employed as a bookmark. I didn’t want creases in that particular copy of Mansfield Park. But the damage was done. And Mother was incensed enough with me already.

“On the contrary, Mother,” I said, balancing on my left foot just long enough to scratch the back of my right knee with my toe, “I find the prospect of this evening’s entertainment so overwhelming that it helps to have something to occupy my mind.”

Mother almost smiled. “It does promise to be an affair. I’m sure I’ve waited long enough before agreeing to be seen at one of these events, don’t you think?”

“Never be the first or the last to adopt fashion,” I said, echoing her words dutifully.

“But you must be the first to make an impression on our host this evening,” she said, a smile beginning at the corner of her mouth. Mother had declined two earlier invitations for parties of this sort. But when this one from Lord Thomas Showalter came so fortuitously timed with my debut, Mother accepted with haste. I couldn’t blame her, exactly. Lord Showalter was exactly the kind of man she or any other eager mother wanted for her daughter. He might have been the most sought-after man in all of Hyde Park, if not all of London itself. He was charming, handsome, and rich.

I rolled my eyes, whispered, “E ‘una verita universalmente riconosciuta che un uomo solo in possesso di una fortuna deve essere in mancanza di una moglie.”

“Don’t mumble, dear,” she ordered.

This time I slipped from Italian to Russian and spoke a bit louder. “.” I loved the way Russian insisted on tickling the back of my throat.

“Agnes.” Mother’s tone carried the warning for her.

I translated the line again, this time to German, so Mother might recognize it at last. “Es ist eine allgemein anerkannte Wahrheit, daß ein Junggeselle im Besitz eines schÖnen VermÖgens nichts dringender braucht als eine Frau.”

She stiffened, crossed her arms. “You know how it vexes me when you show off—what man will stand for that, I wonder?”

Finally, I all but shouted at her in French. “C’est une verite universellement reconnue, qu’un seul homme en possession d’une bonne fortune doit Être dans le besoin d’une femme.”

She took a moment, narrowing her eyes to tiny slits. “It’s not enough that you must cavort about in tongues that no respectable girl has any business speaking, but you must quote those books in the bargain? Honestly, Agnes.”

I smiled sweetly. “I was agreeing with you,” I said, “or at the very least A Lady was.” I looked down at the younger of the two dressmakers. “It’s from Pride and Prejudice,” I said. “‘It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.’ Have you read it?”

You can read the full excerpt online HERE.

Rating: 6 – Good, recommended with reservations

Reading Next: Reckless by Cornelia Funke

 

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7 Comments

  • redcrow
    June 30, 2011 at 5:25 am

    >>>This time I slipped from Italian to Russian and spoke a bit louder. “.”

    The entirety of the quote can be translated with just one dot? Wow, I didn’t know our language is so expressive!

    …Of course, I understand that you simply don’t have Cyrillic letters on your keybord and couldn’t retype whatever she said. (Alas, it means I might never know if her Russian is as great as the book claims.)

    Agnes sounds like if not Mary Sure, then Mary Sue’s not so distant cousin, but it’s not something that can stop me from reading – on the contrary, in fact: I’m the avid collector of Sues. She seems irritating, but not infuriating to the point where I wish for the character to be real so I could scream at them. If Wrapped is going to be translated in Russian one day, I might give it a chance.

  • Thea
    June 30, 2011 at 5:50 am

    @redcrow – I assure you, I meant no slight to the Russian language. If you check out the link I provided for you in the review (here it is again if you can’t find it: http://books.simonandschuster.ca/Wrapped/Jennifer-Bradbury/9781416990079/excerpt), you’ll see that this is what the publisher put up on their official excerpt page. I simply copied and pasted.

    That said, I don’t think you should take any offense to the “.” Cyrillic renderings from computers without Cyrillic keyboards – in HTML, no less – is a time consuming task.

    And power to you for collecting Mary Sues. You’ll probably enjoy Agnes far more than I did.

  • KarenS
    June 30, 2011 at 6:46 am

    Thanks for the review, Thea.

  • redcrow
    June 30, 2011 at 7:26 am

    Thea – I didn’t take offence, I was merely amused. And sleepy enough to overlook the link after an excerpt. Sorry for that. (And, of cource, I wouldn’t expect anyone to try typing Russian words in Latin letters – it’s not only a pain to type, it’s a pain to read as well.)

  • Maureen E
    June 30, 2011 at 7:34 am

    I completely agree. I managed to enjoy it a bit, as a fun thing of its type, but the languages nearly drove me to distraction. Besides the ending, which was insanely cheery and impossible.

  • hapax
    June 30, 2011 at 9:34 am

    She longs for the adventure and romance she reads of in her darling A Lady novels (those anonymously written novels that include Mansfield Park, Sense and Sensibility, and Pride and Prejudice)

    Egads. Tell me that’s your characterization of the novels, not Agnes’s. Austen’s books may or may not be “romantic” (opinions differ), but “adventurous” they are not.

  • Erin
    June 30, 2011 at 5:25 pm

    My, that is a lovely cover.

    I enjoy some of the tone of the excerpt, too. I have a weakness for Clever Young Ladies from this period. Too bad she went beyond the bounds of believable for you. Even considering that Queen Victoria spoke five languages by the time she was eleven or so? Ten does seem a bit extreme. And I can definitely see how the quotations would chafe, they’re kind of grating just in that one passage already. Hard to balance keeping a character sympathetic and flawed I suspect.

    Is there another YA heroine-based regency book of this type that you’d recommend?

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