Sinless (The Shaws #1.5) by Lynne Connolly

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Lord Darius Shaw has never been in love before. But when he renews his acquaintance with lawyer Andrew Graham in a raid on a molly house, where men meet men for forbidden pleasure, they discover mutual feelings as deep as they are dangerous. For while society will turn a blind eye to an aristocrat’s transgressions, Andrew has far more at stake. The son of city merchants, Andrew has a disastrous marriage in his past, and a young daughter to support. He could lose his livelihood, his reputation and even his life—and drag Darius down with him.

Darius and Andrew’s only choice is to deny the true nature of their relationship. But when an enemy Italian spy threatens their secret—and their futures—the two set out to catch him. And in the process they are forced to face their desires—and make a life-changing decision.

Rating: C-

Sinless is book 1.5 in Lynne Connolly’s new series The Shaws, a continuation or spin-off of her seven book Emperors of London series about the powerful Vernon family.  The Shaws are closely related to the Vernons (cousins I think), and some of them appeared in the earlier series as secondary characters.  Book one of The ShawsFearless, featured Lord Valentinian Shaw (both families had a penchant for naming their offspring after Roman emperors) a rake and hellraiser who found himself in court on a murder charge. Thanks to the efforts of barrister Andrew Graham, Val was exonerated and in Sinless, we meet Andrew again as he works to unmask a traitor and tries not to give in to the strong attraction that sparks between him and Val’s twin brother, Lord Darius.

Andrew has been sent by General Court to join a raid on a molly house (a brothel catering to homosexual men) in order to meet a man who is in possession of a list containing details of a network of spies.  As the raid starts and Andrew begins the search for his contact, he is surprised to see Lord Darius Shaw, poised and coolly collected in the midst of the chaos.  Andrew and Darius engage in a brief, wary conversation when Andrew spots the man he is looking for, only to be prevented from confronting him by Darius, who grabs Andrew and kisses him, allowing the other man to make his escape.

Darius has reasons of his own for interfering.  The list contains the names of diplomats and military agents placed throughout Europe by his family and the government, so when he learned of its existence and that it was being offered for sale, he determined to get hold of it himself in order to prevent its being sold to England’s enemies and his family’s rivals.  He had managed to befriend the man in possession of the list with the intention of using their friendship and … shared interests… to obtain it, but the raid put paid to his plans so now he has to find another way – and his first step is to speak to Andrew Graham again in order to find out what he knows.

You can read the rest of this review at All About Romance.

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Once Upon a Christmas Eve (Maiden Lane #12.6) by Elizabeth Hoyt

This title may be purchased from Amazon.

Adam Rutledge, Viscount d’Arque, really rather loathes Christmas. The banal cheerfulness. The asinine party games. And, worst of all, the obligatory trip to the countryside. His grandmother, however, loves the holiday—and Adam loves his grandmother, so he’ll brave the fiercest snowstorm to please her. But when their carriage wheel snaps, they’re forced to seek shelter at the home of the most maddening, infuriating, and utterly beguiling woman he’s ever met.

Sarah St. John really rather loathes rakes. The self-satisfied smirks. The sly predatory gazes. Oh, and the constant witty banter rife with double meaning. But in the spirit of the season, she’ll welcome this admittedly handsome viscount into her home. But as the snowstorm rages, the Yule log crackles, and the tension rises, Sarah and Adam find themselves locked in a fiery, passionate kiss. If love is the true meaning of Christmas, it’s the one gift this mismatched pair can’t wait to unwrap.

Rating: C

Much as I’m a fan of Elizabeth Hoyt’s Maiden Lane series, I’m not a great fan of novellas and after having read and been somewhat ‘meh’ about Once Upon a Maiden Lane, I was going to give this a miss. But the fan in me said “you might as well – you’ve read all the others” (books in the series, that is), so I did read it… and I should have stuck to my guns, because Once Upon a Christmas Eve is rather a disappointment.

Very few authors, IMO, really know how to get it right when it comes to novellas (Courtney Milan is always the one that comes to mind who DOES get it right) and most of those I read tend to be rushed and lacking in depth; plus the current vogue for getting in at least one sex scene regardless of page count means there is even less time spent developing a relationship. And that’s the case here.

What makes it worse, however, is that the hero, Adam Rutledge, Viscount d’Arque, popped up as one of those secondary characters who took on a life of his own in an earlier book in the series, and many fans (including me) had hoped Ms. Hoyt was planning to make him a hero in one of the later books in the series. Sadly, that didn’t pan out – and instead we’ve got this woefully underdeveloped tale of a hardened rake who falls in love in the blink of an eye with a young woman who intrigues him because she hates rakes and doesn’t want anything to do with him.

Sarah St. John had a bad experience some years earlier when she was almost ravished by a handsome charmer who, when they were caught in a compromising position, blamed her and said she led him on. Mortified, Sarah has shunned society ever since, and absolutely detests rakes. When Viscount d’Arque shows up on the doorstep of the St. John’s country home asking for help because his carriage has been damaged, the family extends their hospitality to both d’Arque and his grandmother, with whom he had been travelling. Sarah is not at all pleased at the prospect of having a handsome, charming, flirtatious rake in the house, and determines to keep her distance. D’Arque is – of course – intrigued by pretty much the only woman he’s ever met who has resisted him and decides he might as well spend the next few days trading barbs with Sarah … except it’s he who ends up feeling discombobulated as he realises that the lovely spitfire has somehow got under his skin.

There’s no question that Ms. Hoyt knows how to write a sexy hero, and d’Arque certainly delivers on the sexy; he’s suave and smooth and completely contained – until he’s around Sarah and the cracks in his façade begin to show. He obviously cares for his grandmother a great deal, and his relationship with her is very well written and gives added depth and insight to his character. But Sarah’s ‘disgrace’ is too obviously just a convenient plot device and a reason for her to dislike d’Arque on sight. A well-bred young woman’s reputation was incredibly important, it’s true, but there’s not enough here about what Sarah went through to make her attitude believable.

I suppose my biggest beef is to do with wasted potential. Ms. Hoyt is, of course, entitled to write her books the way she wants to, and obviously, the Maiden Lane series took a direction which ended up precluding her from writing d’Arque a full-length novel. But my first thought after I finished reading was “what a waste of a great character”.

On a more positive note, I enjoyed the snippets from The Frog Prince that prefaced each chapter; those were a nice little tongue-in-cheek nod to the more complex ‘legends’ that feature in the earlier books.

Once Upon a Christmas Eve can be read as a standalone as it doesn’t require any knowledge of what has gone before. Prepare to enjoy the banter as d’Arque and Sarah cross swords and the sparks fly but overall this story suffers badly from what I call “novella-itis” (it’s rushed and underdeveloped) – and if you’re a fan of the series and have been waiting for a story about d’Arque, you might be just a tad disappointed.

(Note: The Kindle edition ends at around the 75% mark; the remaining space is taken up by previews of other Maiden Lane titles.)

Once Upon a Maiden Lane (Maiden Lane #12.5) by Elizabeth Hoyt

This title may be purchased from Amazon.

Miss Mary Whitsun is far too intelligent to fall for the rakish charms of a handsome aristocrat. But when the gentleman in question approaches her in a bookshop, mistaking her for his fiancée, Lady Johanna Albright, the flirtatious encounter only raises more questions. Could Mary, a servant raised in a St Giles orphanage, actually be Lady Joanna’s long-lost twin sister? If so, Mary has been betrothed since birth—to the rakishly handsome artistocrat himself.

Henry Collins, Viscount Blackwell, is far too intrigued by Mary to let her go so easily. He’s drawn to her sharp mind, indomitable spirit, and the fiery way in which she dismisses him—ladies simply don’t dismiss Lord Blackwell. But as Mary makes her first hesitant steps into society, she can’t help but wonder if she truly has a place in Henry’s world—or in his heart.

Rating: C+

While Duke of Desire is the final full-length book in Elizabeth Hoyt’s long-running and incredibly popular Maiden Lane series, that wasn’t quite The End, as the author is treating us to a novella or two to round the series off and, in Once Upon a Maiden Lane, brings us back to where it all began – the streets and slums of the St. Giles area of London.

Some of the reviews I’ve read of Duke of Desire made mention of the fact that the book didn’t really feel like the end of a series; most of the time, such books feature cameos from characters from the previous books, filling pages with happy families as everyone catches up with each other. That doesn’t happen in Duke of Desire, and I, for one, was glad of it, because it would have been much too implausible and would have detracted from the main story. Instead, Ms. Hoyt kept her powder dry and has presented us with Once Upon a Maiden Lane – a novella featuring Mary Whitsun, who appeared regularly in the earlier books as one of the older orphan girls raised at the Home for Unfortunate Infants and Foundling Children run by the Makepeace family. (This will be followed in December by Once Upon a Christmas Eve, which will feature a very long-awaited story for Viscount D’Arque).

As is implied by the title, this story has a bit of the fairy-tale about it. Mary is a young woman now, and resides in the household of Lord and Lady Caire (Wicked Intentions) where she is employed as a nursemaid to the Caires’ two young children.  On her afternoon off, she is browsing in a bookshop when she is approached by an extremely handsome young man – clearly an aristocrat – and addressed as Lady Joanna.  Mary, who is distrustful of handsomeness and even more distrustful of it when it comes in an aristocratic package, makes clear to the gentleman, who introduces himself as Henry Collins, Viscount Blackwell, that she does not find his joke at all funny; but when his friend, John Seymour, also points out Mary’s strong resemblance to Lady Joanna Albright, she becomes very suspicious.  It seems that the very same year she was left at the orphanage, the twin daughters of the Earl of Angrove were abducted, and while one of them, Lady Joanna, was subsequently returned to her family, the elder twin, Lady Cecilia, was not.  Blackwell, who was betrothed to Cecilia as a boy, is expected to marry Joanna instead but isn’t keen.  She’s like a sister to him, and besides, she’s in love with someone else.  Enchanted by Mary’s loveliness and her spirited response to him, Blackwell is determined to prove that she is Lady Cecilia – and then to make her his wife as originally intended.

Once Upon a Maiden Lane is more or less your basic Cinderella story, although this being Elizabeth Hoyt, it’s not quite that simple.  It seems that someone isn’t wild about Lady Cecilia’s return and doesn’t waste any time in trying to harm Mary; and while the ladies of the Albright family – her mother, sister and grandmother – welcome Mary with open arms, the Earl is less than friendly towards his long-lost daughter…

The romance between Mary and Blackwell is nicely done, if a little rushed, and, as one would expect of such an accomplished storyteller, the writing is deft, humorous, poignant and laced with the sort of earthy sensuality that is Ms. Hoyt’s trademark.  I did, however scratch my head at the inclusion of the excerpts from The Curious Mermaid, the ‘legend’ which graces the opening of each chapter, which is basically The Little Mermaid subverted; and honestly, I didn’t quite see why it was there other than to preserve continuity with the rest of the books in the series.

Those hoping for the big Maiden Lane reunion that didn’t happen in Duke of Desire will find it here, although Ms. Hoyt very wisely doesn’t include speaking parts for everyone!  I had to smile at the name bestowed upon Val’s (the Duke of Montgomery) three-year-old daughter, which is every bit as flamboyant as one would expect given who her father is; and it was nice to check in with some of the characters we haven’t seen or heard of for a while.

Once Upon a Maiden Lane is a charming little story that makes a nice coda to the series, but ultimately, it suffers from novella-itis – an underdeveloped story and characters.  I was grateful for the chance to go back to where it all began, but ultimately, this is one for the fans.

Snowdrift and Other Stories by Georgette Heyer

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Previously titled Pistols for Two, this collection includes three of Heyer’s earliest short stories, published together in book form for the very first time. A treat for all fans of Georgette Heyer, and for those who love stories full of romance and intrigue.

Affairs of honour between bucks and blades, rakes and rascals; affairs of the heart between heirs and orphans, beauties and bachelors; romance, intrigue, escapades and duels at dawn. All the gallantry, villainy and elegance of the age that Georgette Heyer has so triumphantly made her own are exquisitely revived in these wonderfully romantic stories of the Regency period.

Rating: B

If you’re already a fan of the great Georgette Heyer – the author who pretty much invented the Regency Romance single-handedly – then it won’t take much persuasion from me to send you in the direction of this newly re-issued collection of the author’s short stories, most of them written for and published in prestigious women’s magazines of the 1930s. There are fourteen in this collection, of which eleven were previously published in the anthology Pistols for Two; Snowdrift features those plus three that have been newly discovered by the author’s biographer, Jennifer Kloester. Is it worth obtaining this new collection to read those new stories? On balance, I’d say that yes, it is, especially as one of the new stories (Pursuit) turned out to be one of my favourites of the set.

I don’t plan on reviewing each individual story here, as that would take more space than I have, so instead I’ll cherry pick as, like most anthologies, there are some excellent stories and some not quite so good ones. Each one features character types and plot elements that will be familiar to regular readers of historical romance; cross-dressing heroines, elopements, mistaken identity, dashing military men, second-chance romance, duels, high-stakes card games, regency-slang and, best of all, those handsome, authoritative heroes and their intelligent, witty heroines. Fans of the author’s will no doubt recognise the seeds of some of the plots and characters who later appear in some of her full-length novels here, too. I’ll also add a couple of words of caution. While very enjoyable, this is an anthology best dipped in and out of rather than read all at once; and these are short stories, so some of the romances are fairly perfunctory and in many cases, rely on insta-love. I’m not a fan, but in this case, it’s mostly forgivable due to the short length and the fact that the stories are beautifully written and enjoyable for so many other things besides the romances, so full are they of Heyer’s trademark laser-sharp social observation, sparkling dialogue and clever characterisations.

And so to the cherry picking. Pistols for Two is a rather unusual story in that it turns a frequently used trope on its head. Two lifelong friends discover that they are in love with the same young woman – another childhood friend who has grown into a beauty – and through misunderstanding and mischance, end up facing each other on the field of honour. Told through both their points of view, the young lady in question is a peripheral character and the author does a terrific job of describing the prickly, adolescent pride of the two young gents.

In A Clandestine Affair, we have an older hero and heroine who clearly share some sort of romantic history. Elinor Tresilian’s niece, Lucy, wants badly to marry the man she loves, Mr. Arthur Roseby, who happens to be the cousin of Lord Iver – who is vehemently opposed to the match. As it happens, Miss Tresilian is not overly in favour either, but headstrong Lucy is determined to have her way. When the couple elopes, Elinor and Lord Iver set off in pursuit, bickering and sniping along the Great North Road until… they aren’t.

A Husband for Fanny sees the young widow, Honoria Wingham, shepherding her lovely daughter, Fanny through the Season and hoping to secure the best and wealthiest husband for her. The Marquis of Harleston is certainly most attentive and would be an excellent match… so why does Honoria feel just the tiniest pang of jealousy when she sees how well the marquis and her daughter get along? You can see the twist in this one coming a mile off, but it’s an engaging story nonetheless.

To Have the Honour. Newly returned from war, young Lord Allerton discovers he has inherited a mountain of debt along with his title. His mother, however, is still spending money at the old rate, because Allerton has all but been betrothed to his cousin Hetty since the cradle; as she is a great heiress, once they are married their money woes will be over. But Allerton dislikes the idea of marrying for money and tells Hetty that he will not hold her to the arrangement between their families and she is free to choose for herself. Some timely scheming behind the scenes means that all ends well.

Hazard is one of my favourites; in it a young woman is staked in a game of chance by her weaselly half-brother, and is ‘won’ by the very drunk Marquis of Carlington. Foxed though he is, Carlington admires Helen’s spirit and insists they leave for Gretna Green right away. Helen is remarkably matter-of-fact about the whole thing, and I loved the way she issued a little payback to her not-swain the next day. Their dash to Scotland is fortuitously interrupted – by Carlington’s fiancée, no less…

Of the three new stories, Pursuit, Runaway Match and Incident on the Bath Road, the first is my favourite, being another elopement story in which an older couple once again takes centre stage. Mary Fairfax and the Earl of Shane are pursuing his ward (and her charge) Lucilla, who has eloped with the man she loves, Mr. Monksley, who will shortly be shipping out to the Peninsula with his regiment. In Runaway Match, the lovely Miss Paradise convinces her friend, Rupert, to elope with her so she can foil her father’s plans to marry her to the old, odious Sir Roland. She has never met her intended, but is horrified to realise he has followed them all the way to Stamford. Or has he? And in Incident on the Bath Road, the handsome, wealthy but ennui-laden Lord Reveley (always courted, never caught) is on his way to Bath when he encounters a chaise accident and takes up the young Mr. Brown who explains that he has urgent business in the city. This urgent business turns out to be going to the aid of the lovely Miss X, who is going to be forced into a distasteful marriage… and Reveley’s life turns out not to be quite so boring after all.

While Georgette Heyer’s full-length novel allow her strengths – tightly-written plots, characterisation and witty banter – to shine fully, there are enough glimpses of all those things in these short stories to make them well worth reading, whether you’re a long-time fan (as I am) or a newcomer to her work. Snowdrift and Other Stories is just the book to have on hand when you don’t have time to settle into a full-length novel and want a quick romance fix.

Duke of Desire (Maiden Lane #12) by Elizabeth Hoyt (audiobook) – Narrated by Ashford McNab

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon

A lady of light

Refined, kind, and intelligent, Lady Iris Jordan finds herself the unlikely target of a diabolical kidnapping. Her captors are the notoriously evil Lords of Chaos. When one of the masked – and nude! – lords spirits her away to his carriage, she shoots him…only to find she may have been a trifle hasty.

A duke in deepest darkness

Cynical, scarred, and brooding, Raphael de Chartres, the Duke of Dyemore, has made it his personal mission to infiltrate the Lords of Chaos and destroy them. Rescuing Lady Jordan was never in his plans. But now with the lords out to kill them both, he has but one choice: marry the lady in order to keep her safe.

Caught in a web of danger…and desire

Much to Raphael’s irritation, Iris insists on being the sort of duchess who involves herself in his life – and bed. Soon he’s drawn both to her quick wit and her fiery passion. But when Iris discovers that Raphael’s past may be even more dangerous than the present, she falters. Is their love strong enough to withstand not only the Lords of Chaos but also Raphael’s own demons?

Rating: Narration – B Content – B+

All good things must come to an end, and here we are, at the end (almost – I think there are a couple of novellas to follow) of Elizabeth Hoyt’s Maiden Lane series with the twelfth and final full-length novel, Duke of Desire. I’ve read some of the novels and listened to others (and in many cases, done both) and there’s no doubt that Ms. Hoyt has maintained an incredibly high standard of storytelling throughout the series, gifting us with some wonderful stories, plenty of action and adventure, a group of memorable characters – gorgeous, sexy heroes to sigh over and their equally gorgeous and sexy ladies to envy – and her own brand of steamy, earthy and heartfelt romance.

Duke of Desire brings us all of those things, although I’ll say now that anyone expecting a big reunion between all the protagonists from the other eleven books is going to be disappointed, because this isn’t that sort of story, and in fact, I’m glad of it. To have brought back all the earlier heroes and heroines would have been too much and actually, rather implausible, and I’m glad that this book concentrates on a new hero and heroine and gives them their chance to shine.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

The Wicked Cousin (Rockliffe #4) by Stella Riley (audiobook) – Narrated by Alex Wyndham

This title is available to download from Audible via Amazon

Sebastian Audley has spent years setting every city in Europe by the ears and keeping the scandal-sheets in profit. Word that he is finally returning to London becomes the hottest topic of the Season and casts numerous young ladies – many of whom have never seen him – into a fever of anticipation.

Cassandra Delahaye is not one of them. In her opinion, love affairs and duels, coupled with a reputation for never refusing even the most death-defying wager, suggest that Mr. Audley is short of a brain cell or two. And while their first, very unorthodox meeting shows that perhaps he isn’t entirely stupid, it creates other reservations entirely.

Sebastian finds dodging admiring females and living down his reputation for reckless dare-devilry a full-time occupation. He had known that putting the past behind him in a society with an insatiable appetite for scandal and gossip would not be easy. But what he had not expected was to become the target of a former lover’s dangerous obsession…or to find himself falling victim to a pair of storm-cloud eyes.

Rating: Narration – A+ Content – A-


Those two names up there in the review title should be enough to tell you why you need to go and buy this audiobook at once. The combination of Ms. Riley’s wonderfully intelligent writing and Mr. Wyndham’s extraordinary skills as a narrator is always a delight to experience, and in The Wicked Cousin, book four in the author’s Rockliffe series of Georgian-set romances, both author and narrator are at the top of their game.

Following the death of his twin brother, Theo, at the age of eight, young Sebastian Audley, now the only son and heir of Viscount Wingham, spends the best part of the next thirteen years chafing at being wrapped up in several layers of cotton wool and over-protected to the point of suffocation. So naturally, as soon as he is able to do so, he sets about raising merry hell, which he does up and down the length and breadth of Europe with such great success that his exploits become the stuff of legend and his name regularly appears in the scandal sheets.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Traitor in Her Arms (The Scarlet Chronicles #1) by Shana Galen

This title may be purchased from Amazon

After her late husband leaves her in debt to some dangerous people, Lady Gabrielle McCullough is forced to become a thief. In the intervening years, her skills have not gone unnoticed. After being recruited by the Scarlet Pimpernel, the mysterious do-gooder spiriting aristocrats out of revolutionary France, Gabrielle crosses the Channel for the most daring mission of her life. Accompanying her is the Earl of Sedgwick, a thief in his own right and an enticingly masculine presence. The man is not to be trusted—nor is Gabrielle’s body when he’s near.

Ramsey Barnes would not say he is an honorable man. His whole life has been based on a lie; why change now? Although it pains him to deceive the tantalizing Gabrielle, he’s working toward an altogether different objective: unmasking the Scarlet Pimpernel. If Ramsey fails, his blackmailer will ruin him. But when Ramsey’s confronted with the carnage of the Reign of Terror, he seeks refuge in Gabrielle’s heated embrace. Now he faces a terrible choice: betray the woman who’s stolen his heart—or risk losing everything.

Rating: C+

Traitor in Her Arms, the first book in Shana Galen’s new Scarlet Chronicles series, takes place in Revolutionary France and features two individuals who are sent to Paris to undertake two very different and dangerous missions in order to fulfil debts owed to a pair of less than scrupulous characters back in England. A novel set in France at a momentous time in history featuring spies, feats of derring-do, a central couple who are keeping secrets and the Scarlet Pimpernel himself sounded right up my street; but while I enjoyed it for the most part, there were a few things about it that didn’t quite gel and prevented me from rating it any more highly.

The widowed Lady Gabrielle McCullough was left destitute when her husband died, and worse, is being hounded by a ruthless man who will not hesitate to hurt her if she fails to pay her late husband’s gambling debts. Having no way of raising such a large sum, Gabrielle has resorted to thievery; with the help of her housekeeper, who taught her to pick locks, and her staunch friend, Lady Diana, the daughter of the Duke of Exeter, Gabrielle has been stealing jewellery from various ladies of the ton in order to pay off the debt. She doesn’t steal from anyone who can’t afford it, but still, stealing is stealing; she doesn’t like it, but it’s that or end up working off the debt on her back in a brothel.

But at last, the end is in sight. If she can filch the lapis-lazuli necklace believed to have been owned by Cleopatra, the money she will make from it will be enough to set her free. She attends the ball given by the necklace’s owner and makes short work of breaking into the room in which the necklace is kept, only to discover that she has been beaten to it by Ramsey Barnes, the Earl of Sedgwick. Gabrielle has no idea what he could possibly want with the jewellery and tries to relieve him of it, but the charged atmosphere between them is impossible to ignore and she succumbs to a kiss – which she later realises he used to distract her and to regain possession of the necklace.

Gabrielle has no idea that Ramsey is in a not too dissimilar position to herself, although unlike her, his situation is largely of his own making. He is being blackmailed by someone who has discovered his deepest, darkest secret, something which could lead to his being condemned to death if it is ever exposed, and intends to use the necklace to buy her off once and for all. But she refuses to trade and ups the stakes, telllng Ramsey that she will only hand over the incriminating documents if he agrees to discover the identity of the Scarlet Pimpernel.

London is rife with stories of the man who is rescuing aristocrats from under the nose of Madame la Guillotine, but many believe him to be merely a myth. Gabrielle is among their number – until the evening she is approached by him in secret, and asked to perform a service which will mean great personal danger, but which, if successful, will mean freedom for a young woman and her daughter and a new life in England. The prison commander at La Force prison in Paris has agreed to smuggle out the Comtesse de Tonnerre and her infant daughter in exchange for Le Saphir Blanc, a bracelet containing an incredibly rare white sapphire that was commissioned by Louis XIV but which went missing in one of the raids on Versailles. For this job, the Pimpernel needs a skilled thief, and from what he has heard, Gabrielle fits the bill.

Gabrielle is a mess of different emotions. Flattered to have been asked, scared at the thought of the danger she might face in a Paris gone mad… but mostly relieved that here is an opportunity to get out of England and out from under the threat of her late husband’s creditors. She takes the mission and makes arrangements to leave for Paris as soon as possible.

Of course, Gabrielle and Ramsey end up taking the same ship for France, both of them being cagey about their reasons for going at such a time. Each begins by viewing their mission as either an impersonal but necessary task (Ramsey) or a noble quest to save innocent lives (Gabrielle), but their outlooks change quickly once they have entered a Paris in which the streets really do run with rivers of blood. Ms. Galen’s depiction of the horrors of the revolution and of the mood of fear and disquiet that pervades the city and its inhabitants is very evocative, and she doesn’t sugar-coat the fanatical devotion of the new republicans or the violence and destruction that continue to plague the city. The relationship between the couple plays out against this backdrop; they have known each other for a number of years and although Gabrielle was married to Ramsey’s best friend, there has always been a strong undercurrent of attraction between them. This pre-existing situation makes it easier for the reader to believe in that attraction and in their subsequent romance, although to tell the truth, there isn’t a great deal of romantic development in the story – which is not surprising given that Ramsey and Gabrielle are forever looking over their shoulders in fear of discovery. (Mind you, that doesn’t stop them from having sex on the floor of the catacombs!) It’s also rather a big stretch of credulity to believe that the Pimpernel would send someone like Gabrielle on such a mission. She’s supposed to be a super-expert thief, but we never really see that, and it’s quickly obvious that she’s completely out of her depth and just isn’t capable of the kinds of machinations and level of deception that she needs in order to pull off her task successfully. On the one hand, her fears and doubts about what she is setting out to do feel realistic and I applaud the author for showing those to the reader; characters need a little vulnerability otherwise there’s a danger they could become unlikeable. The problem is that Gabrielle almost always needs Ramsey or one of the other characters to help her out of a tight spot, and is following rather than leading. Plus, we know that Ramsey is using Gabrielle to get to the Pimpernel, which doesn’t exactly make for the ideal romantic hero; although it’s very obvious that his principal concern is to keep Gabrielle safe for her own sake and in spite of his ulterior motive.

Ultimately, Gabrielle is fairly bland but Ramsey made more of an impression on me. Stories in which the hero lies to the heroine are difficult to pull off, but Ms. Galen just about manages it here, especially when the reader is made privy to the secret that has come back to bite him in the arse and the reasons behind it. He made… let’s call it an unwise decision for altruistic reasons when he was a much younger man and exposure will risk more than his own neck.

The weaknesses in Gabrielle’s characterisation and Ramsey’s not-always-palatable motivations are the main reasons for my not rating the book more highly, although a couple of smaller things bugged me, too, such as the overly-chummy housekeeper and the fact that I couldn’t help wondering why, when so many historicals feature men landed in debt thanks to their profligate predecessors, Gabrielle’s late husband’s debts hadn’t been ‘inherited’ by his heir? When push comes to shove however, I did enjoy the story and will look out for the next one as the adventure portion of Traitor in Her Arms is very well done. I’d like a bit more actual romance next time, though.