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REVIEW: And Only to Deceive by Tasha Alexander

Dear Ms Alexander,

11549053.gifVictorian era books are just not my favorites. I freely admit that is due to shallow reasons such as the ugly way most men wore their facial hair and the drabness of their clothes, ghastly women’s hairstyles (all slicked down with sugar water) and the image that I have of a repressed society. Yeah, very shallow. Yet something about the blurb of your first book caught my interest. Young woman with hidden depths, mystery, lost love and a neat cover (you already know I’m shallow).

Emily has almost finished her two years of obligatory mourning for her husband. She’s endured months of condolences and withdrawal from society as it otherwise ignores the young widow, as is only proper. Society deems that she must at least pretend to be prostrate with grief no matter if she really isn’t. After all, she barely knew the man and she only married him because a) she’s the daughter of an earl and therefore must make a good society marriage and b) she desperately wanted to escape her overbearing mother. She’s spent her mourning period doing precisely what she wants and enjoying her new found freedom. Now that she’s been married and become mistress of her own household, mummy can’t really make Emily do anything. Such bliss.

A visit from one of her husband’s lifelong friends and his mention of a villa Philip owned in Greece sparks Emily’s curiosity. She begins to thumb through several books about Grecian art in her husband’s library then, on impulse, decides to visit the originals in the British Museum. Once there, she’s astounded to learn how many of their priceless works of art her husband donated and how well thought of he was as a scholar. Clearly there was more to him than the African big game hunter Emily barely knew. She starts to read his journals and discovers a complex man, a man of wit and intelligence who apparently loved her deeply. A man whom she now wishes she had had more time to know and a man whom she begins to truly mourn. Intrigued by his interests, she begins to study ancient Greek, read Homer and follow the trail of his acquisition of ancient artifacts. But then, at Philip’s country estate, she discovers what appear to be the originals of some of the art now in the Museum. Horrified at the implications, Emily knows she has to uncover the truth. Was her husband a generous benefactor or a gentleman forger? And which, if any, of the two men now courting her helped Philip with his deception or his donations?

Despite the notation on the cover, I’d say this is more of a mystery than a suspense novel and I’d call it historical fiction with a romantic element rather than a romance. The pace is more leisurely and it’s a novel to be slowly savored rather than rushed through. I got a great feel for the period and it’s obvious that you checked your historical facts. I did have one question about how Philip’s sister’s son would be Philip’s heir. He might be heir to land and house but he couldn’t be heir to Viscountancy. I agree with your reasoning that historically, a young woman in Emily’s place would almost never have rebelled openly against the restrictions and strictures of her level in society. The freedoms allowed women are still curtailed and the ones Emily tries in public are mere baby steps towards what we would consider true freedoms to be and do as she really wants. Had she still been married, it would have been her husband who decreed the level of her freedom, as shown in the marriage of Emily’s friend Ivy. I also agree that society would never have allowed Emily to remain unmarried at that age. They’d have thought her as much of a freak as they did her unwed American heiress friend, Margaret.

I like how Emily learns more about herself as she tries to learn more about Philip’s interests. She admits to herself that she ends up going past what she would likely have been allowed by him and that her tastes and likes are different from his. But she truly mourns the discussions and debates they might have had. Maybe she’ll have them with Colin instead. Her mind is broadened by her studies, she begins to travel and ends up discovering the delights of Paris then dancing with Greek villagers above a wine dark sea.

The book left me pondering the big question: would she have ever fallen in love with Philip if he hadn’t died and she started to look into his life? Would they have ended with the kind of conventional marriage all her friends had? I think her correct in her belief that it would probably not have been as rosy as she daydreamed if might have been. I like that she ends up not wanting to give up the freedoms that she gained by Philip’s death though she might possibly if Colin woos her well enough but only because he seems like he’ll allow her more freedoms than most Victorian husbands would.

I also wonder about Philip. What made him fall in love with Emily since as she admits herself, she didn’t pay much attention to him beyond as a means to escape her mother. Did he really know her or did he love the image he created of her? I think Colin is the one who gets to know the real Emily and I like that Emily seems willing to demand that he spend even more time wooing and getting to know her before there might be any chance of marriage

Emily’s pursuit of the criminals is realistic for what a woman of that age and level in society might be able to accomplish but as one critic states, her wealth and position in society did protect and insulate her from real risk of harm. I think it very believable that at first Emily has trouble discerning who might be lying to her. After all, she’s not a trained investigator and would have no reason to doubt the word of a gentleman. One niggle is that she comes across as maybe more mature than what I’m guessing her age to be (21? 22?).

So I admit that you’ve sucked me into reading further about the adventures of a Victorian Lady. Perhaps I’ll overcome my distaste of muttonchop sideburns. But then probably not. B for “And only to Deceive.”

~Jayne

Another long time reader who read romance novels in her teens, then took a long break before started back again about 15 years ago. She enjoys historical romance/fiction best, likes contemporaries, action- adventure and mysteries, will read suspense if there's no TSTL characters and is currently reading very few paranormals.

11 Comments

  1. Marg
    Mar 15, 2007 @ 04:32:28

    I added this to my TBR list a while ago. It is definitely tempting to move it up the list a bit more after reading this!

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  2. Danielle
    Mar 15, 2007 @ 04:42:23

    I’m going to look for this book…this book sounds so good. Muttonchops or no muttonchops sideburns.

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  3. Keishon
    Mar 15, 2007 @ 09:23:50

    I have this book, good to know you enjoyed it.

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  4. Jan
    Mar 15, 2007 @ 10:58:31

    Wow this sounds like just my cup of tea. I’ll have to read this one. Thanks for the review Jayne!

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  5. LinM
    Mar 15, 2007 @ 12:19:09

    Curses – I keep circling around this book – read/don’t read/read/don’t read. The cover is gorgeous, the blurb is interesting. But the niggles you mention have so far kept me on the fence —– Did Philip love Emily or did he love the image he created of her? Does Emily seem more mature than her years? Do I like Emily enough to read a first person account? —– Oh well, the next book in this series is due out next month so maybe this one will be released in mass market eventually. That gives me more time for fence-sitting.

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  6. Jayne
    Mar 15, 2007 @ 14:39:50

    This is available as an ebook as well as print. Of course I didn’t realize this until after I’d already bought it from Waldenbooks. Ah well….

    The publisher has kindly sent me the next book as an arc and that cover is beautiful as well (it is, I believe from a period painting though I can’t place the artist right now).

    I liked Emily. She’s a bit of a rebel for her time and delights in taking down a pretentious debutante a notch or two. She also discovers a love of port, something which shocks her stiff necked mother to no end.

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  7. Ro
    Mar 15, 2007 @ 16:47:05

    I read this book when it was first released(the author was kind enough to send me a copy from my wishlist *g*), and I had the same reaction as Jayne–a pleasant read that lingers, but doesn’t overwhelm after you’re finished despite the questions that crop up while reading it.

    Jane–The artist is James Tissot. I love his paintings–his attention to the details of 1860s-1880s fashion is sumptuous and amazing. I’d have to agree with this review

    (pardon me while i step on my soapbox) Jayne–you can’t tar and feather the entire Victorian era! The horrid facial hair and slicked down female hairstyles are 1840s and 1850s, while the whole repression thing is a myth! *g* Besides, if the Victorian era was so oppressive, why was women’s education taken seriously, and the many laws making life easier for women(Married Women’s Property Act, Divorce Act, etc) passed during this era? (off soapbox)

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  8. Kristy
    Mar 15, 2007 @ 18:20:19

    This book made me a fan of historicals; so pleased you liked it, Jayne!

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  9. Jana J. Hanson
    Mar 18, 2007 @ 10:46:19

    I really enjoyed this book, which I picked up after meeting Ms. Alexander at the Southern Festival of Books 2 years ago.

    I like the hardcover cover as opposed to the paperback cover shown above. You can read more about Emily next month in A Poisoned Season. I wish my public library would hurry and order their copy so I get add it to my holds!

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  10. Dear Author: Romance Book Reviews, Author Interviews, and Commentary » Blog Archive » My First Sale by Tasha Alexander, Wherein Doing Rather Than Talking Turns into Bestselling
    Jan 18, 2008 @ 04:00:27

    [...] two novels featuring young Victorian widow, Emily, and her instinctive mystery solving abilities : And Only to Deceive and A Poisoned Season. Alexander is a powerhouse of historical writing that brings to life the [...]

  11. Ji
    Sep 06, 2008 @ 23:46:19

    I also give the novel a B.

    Don’t get me wrong- I could not put the book down. I actually got angry with the author for making so many twists and turns because I was actually supposed to be studying for my finals. :)

    ReplyReply

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