Revolution in France, rebels in England, and one woman caught in the crossfire…
For her unwitting participation in a plot to embezzle the Exchequer, Lady Abigail Houghall has spent the last two years exiled to the city of Bath. A card sharp, sometime mistress, and target of scandalous gossip by the London Beau Monde, Lady Abigail plots to escape her gilded cage as well as the prudish society that condemns her. But the times are not easy. France is in chaos. The king has been executed, and whispers of a similar revolution are stirring in England. And because of her participation in the robbery plot, the Spymaster of England is blackmailing her into passing him information about the members of London’s upper crust.
When the dashing English spy Daniel Ridgeway takes a seat at her card table and threatens to expose her for cheating, she has no choice but to do as he demands: seduce the leader of the revolutionaries and learn what she can about their plot. As she’s drawn deeper into Daniel’s dangerous world, from the seedy backstreets of London to the claustrophobic catacombs of a war-torn Paris, she realizes an even more dangerous fact. She’s falling in love with her seductive partner. And the stakes of this game might just be too high, even for her.
Moonstone Conspiracy is the follow up novel to this author’s earlier Moonstone Obsession, in which Lady Abigail Houghall appeared as a conniving, bitchy rival for the hero’s affections. Taking a villain and turning them into the hero(or heroine) is always a tricky thing to pull off, and asI haven’t read the previous book I can’t positively say if Abigail is redeemed here, or if she’s a different character; but whatever the case, she makes for an engaging, gutsy heroine who is transformed over the course of the story from a woman facing an uncertain future to one who finds happiness while also discovering an inner strength she’d never dreamed she possessed.
Abigail had been a high-class courtesan and mistress to many influential men, including the Prince of Wales himself. Having been exiled to Bath following an ill-advised blackmail attempt, she is making a living at the gaming tables, determined to make enough money to be able to eschew the society that condemns her and make a new life for herself somewhere else. Unfortunately, however, when the handsome Daniel Ridgeway takes a seat at her table and threatens to expose her for cheating, Abigail has no choice but to listen to the proposal he brings her from England’s spymaster – who is none other than Sir Percival Blakeney.
Blakeney has heard of a plot by French-backed British revolutionaries to blow up the merchant fleet in the Thames and start a series of co-ordinated riots throughout London and needs more information. Abigail, who owes a debt to the government for not exposing her earlier misdeeds, has no alternative but to follow Sir Percy’s instructions, which are to seduce the man they believe to be the ringleader and find out what she can. This doesn’t sit at all well with Daniel who, in spite of what he knows of Abigail’s reputation, has found her to be intelligent, engagingly forthright and has come to rather admire her.
I was surprised when this part of the storyline was resolved less than half-way through the book, which turns out to have two separate stories, the second being when Abigail accompanies Daniel to post-revolutionary France to search for his dear friend and colleague, Jonathan Sawyer.
It’s here that the real meat of the story lies, as Abigail and Daniel face extreme hardship and the daily threat of death in strife-torn Paris. Their romantic relationship has been set up nicely in the first part of the book when we see them progressing from an initial distrust and reluctant attraction to a working partnership and friendship. In the second part, that attraction deepens amid the heightened tensions and emotions of their perilous situation, but the further they become embroiled in their mission, the farther away seems any prospect of happiness for them.
I enjoyed reading Moonstone Conspiracy and it’s clear that Ms Carter’s research into the political background of her story has been extensive. The sections that describe the horrors of a devastated Paris in the throes of blood-lust and then the couple’s journey through the French countryside are very well done and put the reader right in the middle of the action. Daniel makes a very attractive hero, and Abigail’s character growth is exceptional as she shows herself to be incredibly resilient and resourceful, even in the worst possible circumstances.
I had a couple of issues with some aspects of the pacing and construction of the book though; there’s the occasional bit of head-hopping and I don’t think the flashback sections are well placed, because they interrupt the flow. I usually love the use of flashbacks in a narrative, but they didn’t work for me here.
I also didn’t care much for Ms Carter’s appropriation of Baroness Orczy’s famous Pimpernel. I know he’s a fictional character and that The Scarlet Pimpernel is a book in the public domain, but I fail to understand why the author couldn’t have invented her own spymaster general – it’s been done often enough by others. It’s a matter of personal preference I suppose, but it felt like lazy writing to me, and took away an element of credibility from the whole of the story.
Those reservations aside, however, Moonstone Conspiracy is definitely a book to consider if you’re a fan of well-written, skilfully-plotted espionage stories, and I would certainly be open to reading more by this author.