REVIEW: Cloaked in Danger by Jeannie Ruesch
Dear Ms. Ruesch,
I asked to review this book largely because it appeared as though some of the characters had links to Egypt, and to a lesser extent because I tend to enjoy some suspense in my romance reading. I am sorry to say that neither of these things really lived up to my expectations – and not just because I was expecting a darker tone.
Ariadne Whitney (Aria for short) spent her childhood travelling with her father, who is a well-known explorer/treasure hunter. Aria loved exploring the world with her father:
“It was incredible. Everything looked different, more exotic. The smells were spicier. Simple sounds were musical. Colors were vibrant. It was freedom. And now, I’m confined to a world that disdains everything I am, everything I know.”
Gideon Whitney disappeared after making a major discovery and the jewelry he and his men found has also gone missing. Aria decides to go sleuthing among the ton, believing that the man responsible for her father’s disappearance is one of the investors named in a list left by her father. That she lacks any real evidence, investigative skills, or much familiarity with the polite society and socially appropriate behavior does not seem to deter her.
At a ball, Aria is snooping in the Duke of Ravensdale’s study in search of clues regarding her father’s disappearance. When the Duke and his betrothed Lady Ashton (the couple from your previous book) arrive unexpectedly, she feigns a headache and is later sent to rest in the upstairs bedrooms. She decides to use the opportunity to look around the Duke’s bedchamber, only to run into the Adam, the Earl of Merewood, brother to the Duke’s betrothed. Merewood, who has secrets of his own, assumes that Aria is the Duke’s mistress and wants her to stay away from his family and not ruin his sister’s happiness. Lady Ashton’s first marriage had not been a happy one and he wants the best for her and his other sisters. Aria assumes Merewood is responsible for her father’s disappearance and perhaps worse, and continues to pursue him in search of information.
Despite thinking the worst of each other’s actions and motives, Aria and Merewood are very much attracted to each other, and are eventually caught in a compromising position by his mother and sister and forced to wed. I was surprised that Merewood’s family insisted that they wed, considering Aria is not well-connected and the two were found at his home with no other witnesses, but the story probably would not have worked otherwise. It would have been more believable, however, if his family did not seem so thrilled by the prospect of a scandalous marriage to someone as unsuitable as Aria’s portrayal suggests.
By this point, I can say that Cloaked in Danger was not working for me: the dialogue read too modern, the plot was not particularly interesting, there were numerous on and off-screen characters that seemed superfluous, and there was little sense of the setting; a reference to Beau Brummell eventually made it clear that it was the Regency. Aria’s background was equally disappointing: although she’s supposedly travelled the world with her father, this doesn’t really come across beyond the most stereotypical allusions, such as a sultan propositioning her in Istanbul. Since I’d expected a greater role for Aria’s past experiences and this had been a selling point for me, I was disappointed.
Aria’s past does set her up as an outsider and provides her with occasionally inappropriate vocabulary and a strong disdain for society and its members. This is not too surprising, since just about everyone she meets except for Merewood, Lady Ashton and her Duke was portrayed as shallow, stupid, mean, greedy, or in some cases, all of the above. I felt as though I was reading a book populated entirely by unpleasant characters or featuring an unusually judgmental hero and heroine: Aria seems to find everyone, including Merewood, very annoying, and reasonable suggestions made by other characters often lead to accusations that they are trying to change her and turn her into an insipid debutante. Merewood, meanwhile, has several sisters and a mother who have suitors, all of whom he disapproves of. Apparently he worries about his sisters and himself making bad decisions due to events in your previous book.
Despite my many misgivings, I did continue on, in the hopes that the book would improve once Aria and Merewood got over their initial misconceptions and begin to work together to solve the mystery of her father’s disappearance. However, soon after the midway point the villain revealed himself and by then it was clear to me that neither the story nor the characters were going in a direction that I cared for, and I finally realized there was no point in continuing. Some readers might find Aria interesting and unconventional and may therefore enjoy Cloaked in Danger more than I did, but unfortunately, it was a DNF for me.