Where Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Lieutenant was a rip-roaring and fun introduction to a feisty heroine and her faithful companion, Tony Cliff takes a slightly melancholic turn in Delilah Dirk and the King’s Shilling, which is no less fun, but provides a welcome depth of understanding into Ms. Dirk and Mr. Selim, both as individuals and as a pair.
A few years into their adventures, Delilah and Selim are content to wander through the sun-dappled countrysides of Portugal, Spain, and France, doing odd heroic jobs like reuniting children with their loving families. But the Napoleonic War between England and France can’t be avoided forever; quite by accident, Delilah finds herself accused by Major Jason Merrick of committing espionage against Britain, is very nearly executed, and must flee to her family’s estate in England if she is to clear this stain from her good name. Mr. Selim comes along, naturally, and while in disguise as Delilah’s footman/gardener/tea-expert, discovers that there’s far more to Delilah than she had ever cared to share with him.
This dearth of knowledge and, as he rightfully perceives it, respect for him causes additional conflict between the two of them in frequently inopportune but crucial ways. If their companionship is to continue, Delilah must grant Selim equal footing; but in order for their adventures to continue, she must uncover the truth behind the accusations of espionage. And then there’s the problem of Delilah’s mother, a powerful woman in her own right; it’s easy to see where Delilah’s force of will and charm stem from!
Once again, Cliff makes excellent use of color and shadow in Delilah Dirk and the King’s Shilling, contrasting the rich warm tones of continental Europe with the dreary, cloud-covered skies of England, and mirroring his character’s moods with that use of color and tone. The wide open spaces where Delilah and Selim rode horses or journeyed freely are traded in for close-shouldered buildings, twisting streets, and in one memorable section, a tightly-crowded fancy dress ball. (And I can’t compliment Cliff enough for taking the time to research and recreate period-appropriate fashion.) This is no happy homecoming for Delilah — she’s got a mission, and everything else, including the well-being of everyone else around her, is secondary.
This shift in her behavior is a smart play on Cliff’s part, and opens up the possibility for the reader to view Delilah in less than flattering terms while still providing an appreciation for her mindset. She’s so accustomed to doing things alone and on her own terms that she often neglects Selim, and though he’s a kind and loyal man whose knowledge and skills frequently cover up for her own shortcomings, his patience has understandable limits. Her own family loves her, but her unwillingness to live as a proper English lady causes strife, which she avoids by running away to the farthest corners of the world. Cliff handles all of this in an even-handed way, giving his characters room to argue and be vulnerable at the risk of their own pride.
I still think this is a marvelously fun series, and the added insight into who these characters are only increased my enjoyment of Delilah Dirk and the King’s Shilling. Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Lieutenant could easily have been a stand-alone graphic novel, but this second volume opens the door for a returning nemesis, continued personal growth, and even greater stakes in the upcoming third book, Delilah Dirk and the Pillars of Hercules. And personally, I can’t wait to see what happens next.