Duo Review: Lyon’s Bride and The Scottish Witch by Cathy Maxwell (audiobooks) – narrated by Rosalyn Landor

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I wrote my reviews of these two audiobooks specifically to be published together, as this trilogy is very closely knit. I had originally hoped to include a review of book three, The Devil’s Heart, but for one reason or another, haven’t been able to listen to it yet, so it’ll appear at some point on its own.

Lyon’s Bride

They call him Lord Lyon, proud, determined— and cursed. He is in need of a bride, but if he falls in love, he dies. His fervent hope is that by marrying— and having a son—without love, perhaps he can break the curse’s chains forever.

Enter beautiful Thea Martin—a duke’s headstrong, errant daughter and society’s most brilliant matchmaker. Years ago, she and Lyon were inseparable, until he disappeared from her life without a word. Now she is charged with finding Lyon’s bride—a woman he cannot love for a man Thea could love too well.

The Scottish Witch

Portia Maclean believes she is beyond love and marriage. Then one moonlit night, while attempting a daring masquerade in a desperate bid to protect her family, she finds herself swept off her feet by a powerful stranger. His very touch makes her long for much more. But what will he do once he discovers she has betrayed him?

Ratings: Lyon’s Bride: B for content, A for narration
The Scottish Witch: B- for content, A for narration

Lyon’s Bride and The Scottish Witch are Books One and Two respectively in Cathy Maxwell’s Chattan Curse trilogy which tells the stories of three siblings – Neal, Harry, and Margaret Chattan – whose family was put under a powerful curse almost two hundred years previously.

Each book (including Book Three,) opens with a prologue telling the story of the curse from a different viewpoint. We learn how, in 1632, a young Scottish girl was cruelly jilted by her lover, Charles Chattan, and killed herself as a result. Over the girl’s funeral pyre, her mother, the witch Fenella Macnachtan, curses Chattan and all his decendants before consigning herself to the flames.

When a Chattan male falls in love,
strike his heart with fire from Above.
Crush his heart, destroy his line;
Only then will justice be mine.

Skipping forward to 1814, in Lyon’s Bride we meet Mrs. Thea Martin, a widow and mother of two boys who, although a duke’s daughter, was ostracised from her family when she eloped with a man of whom they did not approve. In straightened circumstances, she manages to make a living as a matchmaker and has earned herself a name for being able to find even the most difficult clients a suitable husband or wife.

Thea is by nature independent and somewhat stubborn, but she loves her two sons fiercely and, having been unhappy in her marriage, has concentrated all her efforts on their happiness, believing her time for romance has passed. Even though she arranges matches for a living and continues to believe in love, she is convinced it is not for her and has erected barriers around her heart to protect herself from feeling deeply and being hurt again.

Her most recent success in finding a wife for a very unlikely gentleman leads to her being offered an even more unusual commission. Neal Chattan, Lord Lyon, needs a bride, but his requirements are very specific – he wants a wife he can never love.

Thea is appalled. And it’s not just because the idea of making such a match goes against her principles; she and Lyon spent an idyllic summer together when they were in their teens, and knowing he’s a kind, decent man, Thea believes he deserves better. But he is adamant. He wants a family and children he can love (his own childhood having been, for reasons we discover later, rather empty and loveless) but because of the curse, doesn’t want to marry a woman with whom he might fall in love. He believes that if he can marry without it, he might have a chance of breaking the spell and his children will be able to live unencumbered.

Thea is naturally, and understandably, dismissive of the curse and at first refuses to undertake the commission. But circumstances conspire to make her acceptance a necessity and she reverses her decision, hoping that perhaps she will be able to turn Neal from his seeming desire for a miserable marriage.

You can read the rest of this review, and the review for The Scottish Witch at AudioGals

Romancing the Duke by Tessa Dare

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As the daughter of a famed author, Isolde Ophelia Goodnight grew up on tales of brave knights and fair maidens. She never doubted romance would be in her future, too. The storybooks offered endless possibilities.

And as she grew older, Izzy crossed them off. One by one by one.

Ugly duckling turned swan?
Abducted by handsome highwayman?
Rescued from drudgery by charming prince?

No, no, and… Heh.

Now Izzy’s given up yearning for romance. She’ll settle for a roof over her head. What fairy tales are left over for an impoverished twenty-six year-old woman who’s never even been kissed?

This one.

Rating: B+

Tessa Dare has once again delivered a truly charming, sexy and humorous romance with her latest title, Romancing the Duke. I admit there were a couple of points which bothered me a little, but they didn’t spoil my overall enjoyment and I really can’t fault Ms Dare’s writing or characterisation.

Isolde Ophelia Goodnight is twenty-six, plain, homeless and practically penniless. Her father, a well-known author of childrens’ stories, died recently, and was too concerned with his writing and the resultant public adulation to give a thought to making sure the daughter who had devoted her life to his comfort was provided for. Consequently, all his money and property has passed to Izzy’s cousin – who dislikes her intensely – and she has been left with nothing. Until one day, when a letter arrives telling her she has received a bequest in her godfather’s will.

Hoping for a few hundred pounds, Izzy travels north to meet with Lord Archer – who is executor of the late Lord Lynforth’s will – at Gostley Castle in Northumberland. Before he arrives, however, Izzy encounters a dishevelled, taciturn yet incredibly handsome man – and promptly swoons at his feet.

Izzy has barely eaten for the last couple of days and has expended almost all the money she had on travelling to the castle. When she revives, the man from the courtyard informs her that he is Ransom Vane, Duke of Rothbury and that the castle is his home.

Lord Archer arrives and tells Izzy that the castle is now, in fact, hers – and both she and Ransom are aghast. Ransom is adamant that he never sold the property to Lynforth and Izzy had hoped for money to enable her to support herself, rather than a huge, dilapidated, bat-and-rat-infested castle in the north of England. Ransom wants Izzy to leave – but she has nowhere else to go and having made “making the best of things” into an art form over the course of her life, Izzy puts her best face on and her best foot forward and informs Ransom she’s staying and that she intends to start putting the place to rights.

“I’ve always tried to make the best of what life gave me. When I was a girl, I longed for a kitten. Instead, I got a weasel. Not the pet I wanted by I’ve done my best to love Snowdrop just the same… Since my father died, I’ve been desperate for a place to call home. The humblest cottage would do. Instead, I’ve inherited a haunted, infested castle in Nowhere, Northumberland. Not the home I wanted, but I’m determined to make it a home.”

But the duke isn’t about to let this unknown woman just walk into and take-over his home without knowing what the hell is going on, and he certainly doesn’t plan on going anywhere himself. Following an incident seven months previous which has deprived him of his sight, Ransom has holed up at Gostley fully intent on licking his wounds, turning brooding into an Olympic sport and having the biggest, longest pity-party in history. Although in this case, misery definitely does NOT want company. Ransom tries everything he can think of to get rid of Izzy. He’s rude. He takes her around the castle to show her just what a wreck the place is to discourage her. He inadvertently manages to get a baby bat trapped in her hair. He tries to scare her off by kissing her senseless and showing her that he’s a threat to her virtue – but none of it works.

Izzy stays and starts gradually to make improvements to the castle as well as acting as Ransom’s secretary. He can no longer read any of the mountains of correspondence burying his desk and the only way they are going to discover the truth about the ownership of the castle is to go through it all in the hope of finding the details of the transaction. As wade their way gradually through all the letters, it emerges that someone has been misappropriating funds from Ransom’s accounts and mismanaging his affairs; and it’s almost certain that same someone is responsible for the fraudulent sale of Gostley.

While this is going on, the relationship between Izzy and Ransom is gaining momentum. Right from the start, he’s attracted to her, to her honesty and spirit; and – not least – to the feel of her body and the scent of her skin. But to begin with, he’s too intent on self-pity to allow himself to admit that it’s anything more than the simple lust of a man who hasn’t been with a woman in months. As we come to know more of him, we discover that Ransom had a loveless childhood (as so many heroes in historical romance seem to do!) and that, as an adult, he made a career of pushing people away and alienating them, so that even when he was in possession of all his physical senses, he was never well-liked or popular – despite his being inordinately handsome and very rich.

And now he feels he has nothing to offer. He’s blind, scarred, even more of a misery-guts than he was before, and the last thing he wants is to feel pitied by some waspish, over-optimistic spinster.

I really liked Izzy. She’s straightforward and pragmatic, says what she means (for the most part), and tackles the challenges before her head-on and without pausing to let the enormity of them grind her down. She hasn’t had the easiest of lives, but because of her situation, has never been able to express her frustrations to anyone. Her father’s stories are so beloved that she is thought to have had the perfect life with the perfect parent, and she herself has become an object of devotion as a result. Everyone who meets her or hears about her thinks of her as “little Izzy Goodnight”, the loving daughter to whom the Goodnight Tales were told and then written. Ransom realises straight away that this is a source of great irritation for Izzy, who is tired of having other people’s impressions of her personality imposed upon her. Yet because she is reluctant to hurt anyone’s feelings, she allows it to continue and gamely plays the role of the fairytale princess.

Ms. Dare is justly renowned for her ability to write sharp, witty banter, and she has penned some terrific exchanges between Ransom and Izzy. In addition, both protagonists are very well-drawn, engaging characters who clearly need each other very much. Not because Ransom is blind and needs Izzy’s eyes, or because Izzy is destitute and needs his money, but because Ransom is the first man to actually see Izzy for what she is – a woman with a true and loving heart and a lot to offer to any man. In her mind she’s plain, but Ransom, who can’t see her face but who knows the feel and scent of her, the sound of her husky voice, knows that on the inside, she’s a beautiful temptress.

And Izzy is able to break through the protective barriers Ransom has constructed around himself, to begin to restore his faith in himself and in human nature; and to show him that he ,is worthy of love.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading Romancing the Duke even though there were a couple of things that niggled at me. Firstly, there was the fact that Izzy spent several nights under Ransom’s roof without a chaperone. I know she had little alternative, but it took quite a while for Izzy to come up with the idea of having another female stay there with her. And then there was the fact that we never really got to the bottom of who had been stealing from Ransom. My biggest issue, however, was with the ending, which was too silly for my taste.

But when I enjoy other aspects of a book – such as the characterisation and dialogue – as much as I did with this one, I tend to be a little more lenient about such things. The rest of the story is warm and funny, the romance is charming and sexy and there are some moments of very sharp insight, such as this one, from early in the novel:

“This is property. Don’t you understand how rare that is for a woman? Property always belongs to our fathers, brothers, husbands, sons. We never get to own anything.”“Don’t tell me you’re one of those women with radical ideas.”

“No,” she returned. “I’m one of those women with nothing. There are a great many of us.”

I also loved Ms Dare’s affectionate poke at fandom, her sly nod towards the gothic novel, and – I have to give her bonus points – the Star Wars reference.

In short, Romancing the Duke is a terrific, feel-good romantic tale and I’m very much looking forward to the next book in the series.

Mary Fran and Matthew by Grace Burrowes (audiobook) – narrated by Roger Hampton

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Matthew Daniels is an English colonel who has been sent home from the Crimea in disgrace. Mary Frances MacGregor is a Scottish widow who loathes everything about the English military, and yet both Mary Fran and Matthew know more than they want to about being lonely and isolated, even amid family. They yearn to understand each other too, but old secrets and divided family loyalties threaten to cost them their chance at shared happiness.

Rating: A- for narration and B for content

This audio novella is quite short, coming in at around the two-and-a-half hour mark, but even so, the story is replete with the emotional punch I’ve come to expect from author Grace Burrowes.

The events of Mary Fran and Matthew run concurrently with those in The Bridegroom Wore Plaid, the first of Ms. Burrowes’ novels set in Victorian Scotland which features the MacGregors of Balfour. Lady Mary Frances MacGregor is a widow and the younger sister of four handsome, strapping Scotsmen, the eldest of whom, Asher, is missing, presumed dead, leaving the next brother, Ian, to take over the reins of the impoverished Earldom of Balfour.

In Bridegroom, Ian is seeking a wife rich enough to enable him to restore and adequately support his family, dependents, and estate, and it seems as though he has found her in the person of Eugenia Daniels, the eldest daughter of the English Baron Altsax. Altsax brings his two daughters and his son, Matthew, a former army officer, to Balfour for the summer, in order to finalise the details of Genie’s betrothal to Ian.

Mary Fran is a secondary character in that novel; she is both housekeeper and hostess, and spends a lot of her time rushing from place to place and being generally frazzled trying to keep everything running smoothly, as well as being a mother to her precocious seven-year-old daughter, Fiona. It’s quite obvious from the title of the novella as to the direction the story will take (and anyone who has read or listened to Bridegroom will know how things work out), so it’s not too much of a spoiler to say that the novella charts the development of Mary Fran’s relationship with Matthew Daniels.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

The Black Moth by Georgette Heyer (audiobook) – narrated by Julian Rhind-Tutt

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Jack Carstares, the disgraced Earl of Wyndam, left England seven long years ago, sacrificing his honor for that of his brother when he was accused of cheating at cards. Now Jack is back, roaming his beloved South Country in the disguise of a highwayman.

And the beauty who would steal his heart

Not long after Jack’s return, he encounters his old adversary, the libertine Duke of Andover, attempting the abduction of the beautiful Diana Beauleigh. At the point of Jack’s sword, the duke is vanquished, but foiled once, the “Black Moth” has no intention of failing again…

Rating: B for content, A- for narration

Although I’m a long-term reader and fan of Georgette Heyer’s romances, there are a couple that, for reasons I can’t fathom, passed me by, and The Black Moth is one of them. So I’ve come to the audio completely fresh, as it were, not having read the book previously. I don’t know if that’s made a difference to my perception of it: looking at the number of poor-to-middling reviews on Goodreads makes me wonder if it has, because I thought this audiobook was a delight from start to finish.

The storytelling itself isn’t perfect and the action does jump around a bit. That said however, I was so quickly wrapped up in the story of the honourable Earl who lies to protect his brother and do right by the woman they both want to marry, that I was more or less unaware of any abrupt cuts or shifts of POV.

The Black Moth is Heyer’s first published novel, and on the whole, is an incredibly assured piece of work for a nineteen-year-old. Yes, there are things that speak of her youth. For example, some of the characterisation is weak, there are some parts of the book in which there is far more telling than showing, and there is the aforementioned jumping around but overall, I found this to be an enjoyable and rewarding listen.

One of the things I particularly enjoy about reading and listening to books that were written decades ago is the way in which the authors seemed more able to take their time to set up their stories and to build their characters. I remember saying something similar in my review of The Devil on Horseback by Victoria Holt; perhaps to a younger reader or listener, this is “slow”, but for me, it’s a luxurious experience, and something to be savoured.

The story itself is fairly simple. Six years previously the hero, Jack Carstares, Earl of Wyncham, was accused of cheating at cards and, having admitted his guilt to such a terrible breach of the code of honour, fled the country. I suppose such a thing is inconceivable today, but it seems such things were taken very seriously back in the 18th century! Jack has spent the intervening years roaming Europe living on his wits and from his ill-gotten gains as a Gentleman of the Road – or highwayman. The thing is – Jack wasn’t guilty. He was covering up for his younger brother who, in a fit of panic, had been desperate enough to cheat and who, when Jack was accused, said nothing.

Jack’s brother, Richard, married the lovely Lavinia, who leads him a merry dance, being petulant and demanding, and as the years have progressed, he has become more and more weighed down by his guilt. And then, one year ago, the brothers met again when Jack unknowingly held up Richard’s coach, and since then, Richard has been struggling with his conscience even more.

For his part, Jack has not been too sorry with the way his life has panned out until he rescues a damsel in distress from the evil clutches of the villain, falls in love, and realises he has nothing to offer her.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals

In Love with a Wicked Man by Liz Carlyle (audiobook) – narrated by Carolyn Morris

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What does it matter if Kate, Lady d’Allenay, has absolutely no marriage prospects? She has a castle to tend, an estate to run, and a sister to watch over, which means she is never, ever reckless. Until an accident brings a handsome, virile stranger to Bellecombe Castle, and Kate finds herself tempted to surrender to her houseguest’s wicked kisses.

Disowned by his aristocratic family, Lord Edward Quartermaine has turned his gifted mind to ruthless survival. Feared and vilified as proprietor of London’s most notorious gaming salon, he now struggles to regain his memory, certain of only one thing: he wants all Kate is offering—and more.

But when Edward’s memory returns, he and Kate realize how much they have wagered on a scandalous passion that could be her ruin, but perhaps his salvation.

Rating: B+ for content and B+ for narration

Kate Wentworth is a rather unusual Lady in that she is a rare thing – a peeress in her own right. She is the Baroness d’Allenay, one of the few titles in England that can pass to the female line if there are no sons to inherit.

Upon the tragic death of her brother, she assumed the title and the responsibilities of the land-rich, but cash-poor Bellecombe estate. Following a short-lived engagement to an old family friend who turned out to be a womaniser and gambler, Kate retreated to Bellecombe where she has resided ever since, performing the innumerable duties demanded of the mistress of such a large property.

At twenty-eight, she has given up hope of ever marrying. It’s not that she doesn’t want to – she likes the idea of a husband and family – it’s more that she doesn’t have the time to go through another London season to find a likely prospect. She has her hands full attempting to put right the ravages wrought upon the estate by successive generations of gamblers and wastrels. Whatever time she doesn’t spent managing the land and running the house, she spends worrying about her younger sister, Nancy, who is in love with the local vicar.

After a quarrel with Nancy which sees Kate riding off hell-for-leather in a temper, she is involved in a collision with another rider – a man who is thrown from his horse and badly injured. Feeling responsible for the accident, Kate has him taken to the house and tended to.

When the man – an extremely handsome man who is obviously a gentleman – wakes up, he has no idea who he is. The only thing Kate is able to determine about him is his first name – Edward, which is engraved on the pocket watch he carries. Right from the start, Edward has the lurking suspicion he may not be the gentleman he appears, yet he has no idea why he feels that way.

Days pass and, although Edward begins to regain snippets of memory, the bulk of who and what he is continues to elude him. He likes life at Bellecombe, not because it’s luxurious – it isn’t, but because it’s honest and real … and, he is becoming deeply attracted to Kate. He likes the feeling of belonging, the warmth between Kate and her sister, despite their spats, and the respect and affection clearly existing between Kate and her servants and tenants. And he begins to think that perhaps it wouldn’t be such a bad thing if he were never to remember his previous life. He can’t shake a small, inner voice telling him he’s not a good person – but at Bellecombe he finds a freedom he doesn’t think he’s ever experienced before, a freedom to be the man he wants to be, and, most importantly, the man Kate needs him to be.

The listener is, of course, aware of Edward’s identity and knows why he has a deep-seated feeling that he may not be a good man. In London, he’s Ned Quartermaine, the proprietor of one of city’s most notorious gaming hells. He’s ruthless and calculating, and at the beginning of the story has just agreed to accept a property near Exmoor called Heatherfields as payment of the debts incurred by Lord Reginald Hoke. He literally runs into Kate while on his way to inspect the place.

I admit, I sighed heavily and rolled my eyes when I realised that was pretty much the extent of Edward’s wickedness. I’m beginning to think it’s best to ignore about 50 percent of the titles of the books I read and listen to these days, because so many are trite and completely inappropriate as a hook for the story, as is the case here. Despite his reputation for being a ruthless and cold-hearted man who has ruined countless aristocratic families, I wouldn’t describe Edward as wicked. (Okay, so he might be wicked in bed, but all the best romantic heroes are!) After all, it’s not his fault that people choose to gamble away their money, houses, and estates, and neither are the ramifications.

But back to the story. Given that Kate’s struggles with her finances stem from her intemperate predecessors who gambled away fortunes and ran the estate into the ground, to say she is not best pleased when Edward remembers his identity is an understatement. The trouble is, she’s fallen in love with him, and despite his protestations that he’s not a fit person for her to know, she won’t accept such and persists in seeing the good in him. She’s not blinded by love or infatuation – in the time they’ve spent together, Edward has shown himself to be a truly decent man and Kate’s faith in him makes him start to question himself in a way he never has.

Kate is strong and capable, but there’s a sense of real weariness about her, the feeling that occasionally, she would like there to be someone with whom she could share the burdens of the estate and her family concerns. She has devoted most of her adult life to being the Baroness d’Allenay and, with the rest of her life stretching before her looking to be spent in the same way, she determines that she isn’t going to pass up the opportunity to take comfort in the arms of a man to whom she’s deeply attracted. I liked that Kate was confident enough to go after what she wanted and mature enough to know exactly what she was asking for.

Both protagonists begin to see themselves differently as a result of their association. Kate isn’t beautiful and knows it though in Edward’s eyes she’s lovely and he makes her feel that way. He frequently refers to himself as someone with whom she shouldn’t be seen, and as a bad man but she doesn’t believe it, and her confidence in him gives him the impetus to take a good look at himself and his life and begin to see that perhaps she’s not completely wrong about him.

In Love with a Wicked Man is a lovely, romantic story and I enjoyed it very much. The amnesia storyline was handled very well and wasn’t allowed to drag on until it became unbelievable. The element of conflict between the couple which emerges late in the story was perhaps a tad unnecessary, but fortunately again, things are not allowed to fester for too long.

As well as the developing friendship and romance, there are a couple of sub-plots involving Kate’s scheming former fiancé and her seemingly ditzy mother, Aurelie. Kate isn’t looking forward to hosting a regular house-party as her mother invariably brings along a rag-tag bag of hangers-on and would-be lovers (or current and former lovers) and throws everything into uproar.

In fact, Aurelie turned out to be one of the stars of the book. Edward opines quite early on that she isn’t as much of an air-head as she seems and he turns out to be right. She’s very shrewd when she wants to be and, while she is certainly not a conventional mother, when push comes to shove, she is prepared to exert herself on behalf of both her daughters, even at the cost of her own reputation.

Carolyn Morris’ catalogue of historical romance audiobooks is growing quickly, and it’s easy to hear why. She has an attractive voice in what I’d describe as the “mezzo” register, her narration is very well paced, and her characterisations are appropriate and consistent.

All the secondary characters were distinctively and fittingly performed. She adopted a West Country drawl for the housekeeper, Mrs. Peppin, and the other servants and tenants, gave Aurelie a coquettish-sounding French accent and made Reggie sound suitably slimy and despicable by employing a thin, nasal tone. In the narrations of hers I’ve listened to so far, I’ve found that her hero voices are performed in a similar register to the heroine’s, but a change in timbre rather than pitch gives a masculine quality to Edward and means there is no confusion in conversations between him and Kate as to which of them is speaking.

The one weak spot in the audio was her performance of John Anstruther, Kate’s Scottish land-agent. Her Scottish accent was very hit and miss (mostly miss) and some of her pronunciations were really odd

Other than that, I enjoyed both the story and Ms Morris’ performance very much. With such large numbers of new narrators appearing every week, it’s always a risk when trying someone new, but having now heard several audiobooks narrated by Ms. Morris, I’m confident that I can add her to my list of narrators to trust.

To Capture a Rake by Lori Brighton (audiobook) – Narrated by Fiona Underwood

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In all his time as a male prostitute at Lavender Hills, Gideon Drake has never been hired out, never been allowed to leave the gilded cage in which he pleasures the well-heeled wives of London. So when a young widow convinces Lady Lavender to release her prize stud for a week-long seduction at a country estate, Gideon spies his chance for escape. It is the perfect plan—until his beautiful client reawakens a passion he thought long dead…

After her husband’s death, Elizabeth Ashton knows she must remarry, but not just any man will do. She must find Lord Ashton’s long-lost bastard nephew and convince him to wed, cementing his claim to the family fortune. Of course, rescuing herself from certain ruin means venturing into Lavender Hills and putting her life into the hands of a dark, handsome rogue as notorious for his cold heart as he is for his sexual expertise. Somehow, Elizabeth must convince him to love her, to marry her, and ultimately to save her.

One touch will ignite the flame of their passion. One kiss will prove this liaison unlike the others. Bound by desire and need, only together are they strong enough to face down their enemies—and to claim the promise of love.

Rating: B- for narration and C for content

To Capture a Rake is the follow-up story to To Seduce an Earl, which I read last year and, despite a few reservations, enjoyed overall. The heroes of each of the three novels in the series are male prostitutes, employed by the infamous Lady Lavender at her exclusive establishment for ladies looking for a little “company”. Although employed may not be the correct term, as each of them is more or less a prisoner, forced into working as whores and kept there because they are being blackmailed by Lady Lavender over some dark secret in their pasts.

When we met Gideon Drake in the first book, he was jaded, cynical and hard-hearted. His continual escape attempts mean that he is never allowed to leave Lavender Hills – until his latest client somehow manages to persuade Lady L to let him leave with her for a two-week stay at her country estate.

Elizabeth Ashton is a wealthy widow seeking male companionship. She has one particular male in mind, and despite Lady Lavender’s attempts to dissuade her, refuses to leave without the man she wants – Gideon. It’s clear from the outset that she has sought him out for reasons that have little to do with his profession (well, she wants him for that, too!) and that she is not quite the woman of the world she is trying to appear.

Naturally, Gideon is suspicious, both of Elizabeth and of her motives in springing him from Lavender Hills. He is abrasive, sullen, and often rude, partly because it’s his survival mechanism, partly because he’s been that way for so long that he’s almost forgotten how to be anything else, and partly (as the story progresses) as a way to keep an emotional distance from Elizabeth, even as he recognises that he is attracted to her beyond what is required of him.

The story revolves around family secrets and a missing heir, with an obnoxious and possibly murderous mother-in-law thrown in for good measure. It’s nothing that hasn’t been done before, although the fact that the hero has been earning his living as a whore for the past decade or so does put a slightly different spin on things. Elizabeth, too, is not your run-of-the-mill genteel widow; before she married she was a chambermaid so she, like Gideon, has experienced the worst of society as well as the comforts it can offer.

While I had a couple of minor issues with the plotting (it’s difficult to explain without giving too much away), my problems with the book overall were principally concerned with the characterisation and more importantly, with the progression of the romance.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

The Shadow Princess by Mary Hart Perry

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A year after Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee terror mounts in the city’s slums. A killer has butchered two prostitutes, the crimes brutal even by London’s hardened standards. Rumors of the murders reach Princess Vicky, daughter of Queen Victoria and grieving widow of the German Emperor Frederick III. When her niece Princess Maud visits, she brings with her even worse news–the Metropolitan Police have a suspect. It’s Vicky’s nephew, Crown Prince Eddy. Desperate to clear her family’s name, Vicky rushes back to England.

Detective Inspector Thomas Edmondson believes there is a royal cover-up behind the killings. He will stop at nothing to expose the truth and bring a murderer to justice before he can kill again. But when Vicky joins him in searching for the man who will become known as Jack the Ripper, neither of them foresee the overpowering attraction that will draw together the royal and the commoner—or the danger their love puts them in.

Rating: C+

I read and reviewed the previous book in this series about the daughters of Queen Victoria last year, and although I had a few reservations, I thought the book was well written and that the historical detail and the fictional elements of the story were well blended. Like its predecessor, The Shadow Princess takes a member of the royal family as its main character and then builds its story around her; a story which is fictional but which makes use of historical fact.

The protagonist in this novel is Princess Victoria, the eldest daughter of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. The Empress of Germany, Victoria – or Vicky – is the mother of Kaiser Wilhelm II, and at the beginning of the book, she has been recently widowed and is finding her life stifling and lacking purpose. Her son is becoming more and more unmanageable, his increasing hatred of the English colouring his relationship with her, and Vicky fears – not without reason (and as history bears out) – that Wilhelm’s reign will not be either pleasant or prosperous.

So Vicky is at a loss. Having been bred to be a queen and brought up to be a true helpmeet to her husband, she feels marginalised and is sinking into a depression. But events in England have brought her niece, Maud (daughter of Edward, Prince of Wales) to Germany to try to entice Vicky to return to England. Edward’s eldest son is notorious for his rather wild lifestyle and for his penchant for venturing into the less salubrious areas of London, and while this, of itself, might be a matter of little real concern, his visits to the Whitechapel area in particular have led to his name being linked to a couple of gruesome murders which have recently taken place there.

Maud wants Vicky to come to London to try to persuade the police that Eddy has nothing to do with the murders; the relationship between the royals and the Metropolitan Police is none too cordial at present, and as the Queen is about to depart for Balmoral, Maud decides that her aunt is the ideal person to try to divert the police’s attention from her brother.

Vicky does not really see what she will be able to do to help the situation, but having no pressing need to stay in Germany, agrees, and brings her eldest daughter, Sophie, to London with her.

The story that follows sees Vicky become involved in the investigation into the infamous Whitechapel murders, in a fairly small way at first, by offering to become the liaison between the royal family and the police and opening up channels for a frank exchange of information between them. In this way, she becomes acquainted with the handsome Detective Inspector Thomas Edmondson, and through her association with him, and her interest in the unfolding case, she begins to emerge from her lethargy and depression and re-discover her zest for life.

At first, Edmondson is suspicious of Vicky’s motives, thinking she is trying to engineer a cover-up in favour of her nephew, but as the case progresses, he realises she is truly keen to help find the killer. He also finds himself fighting an infatuation, something he knows can never amount to anything because of the huge difference in their stations. Yet the attraction between them is undeniable, and they begin to make excuses to spend time in each other’s company, much to the chagrin of Vicky’s daughter who is horrified at the idea of her mothers’ becoming involved with a mere “commoner”.

Overall, I found The Shadow Princess to be an entertaining novel. The author’s descriptions of the seedier parts of London were very evocative, and I thought her take on the true identity of Jack the Ripper and his motives was just as valid as any of the others that have been put forward over the years. The pacing was good, and there were some very tense moments during the hunt for the killer which, while somewhat far-fetched, nonetheless added to the story’s appeal and made for an exciting read.

On the downside, if you’re someone who looks for pinpoint historical accuracy in historical fiction, then this might not be the book for you. The story is well told, but the problem in selecting a real person – and a royal one at that – as your principal character is that there are a limited number of ways the story can progress given that the protagonist’s life is a matter of historical record. The two younger princesses, Sophie and Maud, were only thinly fleshed-out and most of the time seemed only to be present in the story in order to do something really stupid for Vicky to worry about and then set to rights. There were some elements to the novel which required rather a larger suspension of disbelief than I normally like (it’s hard to say too much without spoilers), but I was invested enough to want to know how things would turn out in the end, so I decided to go with the flow and keep reading.

I enjoyed seeing a more mature woman (Vicky is in her late forties) as a romantic heroine. I do think the romance in the novel was rather rushed – Thomas (who is ten years Vicky’s junior) and Vicky are in the grip of a very strong mutual attraction from their first meeting, and very quickly find themselves hard pressed to keep their hands off each other, both mentally and physically. But the huge class difference between them, and their devotion to their own specific duties make a long-term relationship impossible, so the romance in the book is rather bitter-sweet. But it was handled well, and I liked that Ms Hart Perry had both protagonists face up to the obstacles in their path and reach the same conclusions.

Overall, The Shadow Princess works well as a piece of entertainment if you’re prepared to accept a certain degree of creative licence. The author has clearly done her homework (despite the glaring use of a few Americanisms, such as “sidewalk”, and the use of a few anachronistic expressions) and has put her research to good use in her descriptions of late-Victorian London, as well as in her depiction of Jack the Ripper. There is a good balance between the mystery and the romance; and all in all, the book is a quick, engaging read.