Aboard the luxuriously appointed SS Majestic, the duke is on a mission to retrieve a most important portfolio of papers and thwart a known anarchist. As the ship steams across the Atlantic, the duke’s search for the notorious master of disguise forces him into close quarters with an American heiress and her widowed governess, Mrs. Penelope Schuyler.
While Olympia has known his fair share of intriguing women, Mrs. Schuyler seems to have a way of challenging his expectations at every turn. But as their clandestine meetings lead them down an unexpected path, the duke must determine if Penelope is a woman to be trusted…
Juliana Gray neatly bridges the gap between her recent Princesses in Hiding series and her forthcoming one in this novella featuring the Machiavellian Duke of Olympia. In the earlier books, readers were introduced to this distinguished, powerful, older man as he pulled strings behind the scenes in order to save the lives of his three nieces, princesses of a minor principality whose lives were in danger because of the revolution that killed the rest of their family.
Olympia has the ear of the Queen, is a major player in political circles – both national and international – and is a spymaster of considerable note. In short, he’s one of the most influential men in England, and has been serving his country in countless ways for the best part of five decades. Now in his early seventies, he is starting to think that perhaps he deserves a different life, one not filled with dangerous secrets which requires him to be forever looking over his shoulder. Yet he is once again pressed into service for his country when he undertakes a voyage from New York to England, as there is a dangerous French agent on the loose and Olympia is the only person suitably placed to be able to apprehend her and uncover whatever nefarious schemes she is concocting.
This is a terrific novella in many ways, not least of which is the fact that Ms Gray has taken a seventy-four year-old man and made him convincingly into both a dashing hero and a romantic lead. Come on – we all wanted to see the seventy-seven year-old Harrison Ford as Han Solo again, didn’t we? So there’s no problem whatsoever envisioning Olympia as an attractive, vital man. It helps that readers familiar with the author’s previous books will already know him as an imposing figure – well over six-feet tall, good-looking, well-built, silver-haired and fiercely intelligent – and from the events of those books, we know him to be a master of the game of espionage, a man who carefully considers the board before making his moves and who leaves little to chance.
While trying to discover the identity of the French agent, Olympia makes the acquaintance of Mrs Penelope Schuyler, an American widow of fifty years who is currently the companion to a young heiress, Miss Ruby Morrison. Of course, Miss Morrison’s mother thinks it would be quite the thing for her girl to nab an English duke, no matter that he’s old enough to be her grandfather. Olympia, however, has other ideas, finding the intriguing and somewhat enigmatic Mrs. Schuyler much more to his taste.
I’m not going to say anything more about the mystery plot other than it takes a couple of unexpected turns and is nicely woven into the fabric of the story as a whole. And while it’s an important part of the story, Ms Gray maintains a good balance between it and the developing relationship between Olympia and Penelope, which is quite sweetly romantic but nonetheless conveys that age is no bar to romance or passion.
I also very much enjoyed the glimpses we are given into Olympia’s past. There are some truly poignant moments as we discover the reason why he has devoted so much of his life to Queen and Country and has remained single for so many years, content that his title will eventually pass to a nephew rather than to a son of his own.
All in all, The Duke of Olympia Meets His March is that rare thing – a novella that feels absolutely right. So often, the events in novellas feel rushed and romances feel as though they happen at lightspeed; but even though the events of this one take place over a short period of time, I never felt either of those things. In fact, it’s such a good read that I could happily have read a full-length novel about the Duke and his adventures, but in this case, I think Ms Gray took the wise course, because what we’re given is just the right amount – the right amount of plot and the right amount of romance. Oh – and the right amount of humour; I found myself giggling on several occasions at Olympia’s dry, deadpan and very English wit. If you’ve read the Princess in Hiding series, this makes a nice bookend; if you haven’t, it’s a good introduction to the next, and is certainly worth a couple of hours of anyone’s time.