Dear Ms Carlyle,
I haven’t read many of your books (though I do have most of them on various TBR mountains scattered throughout my house) but the ones I’ve tried, I really liked. Which is why I was disappointed with the main characters and plot of this one.
The notorious Marquis of Nash is a creature of the night; his wealth and his title provide but a tenuous entrÃƒÆ’Ã‚ ©e into polite society. With his Eastern European manners and dark elegance, Nash tempts women even as he tempts the scandalmongers. Rumors abound of the men he has bankrupted and the hearts he has broken. But when Nash leaves his lair for a rare foray into the ton, and enjoys a moment of heated passion with a mysterious lady in the dark, he develops an obsession which will lead him into the hellish world of smugglers, spies, and political intrigue as the Continent edges nearer to war.
Xanthia Neville has arrived in London to expand her family's most lucrative business holding–"Neville Shipping. With her brother Rothewell all too happy to waste his life in debauchery, Xanthia opens up shop in London's grimy Docklands, and sets about expanding the family fortune, all the while flaunting the ton's silly strictures about how a lady ought to behave. But London, she soon learns, is not Barbados. And when the British Government approaches Rothewell to ask the family's help in exposing a dangerous arms dealer, Xanthia must enter society after all, only to find her loyalties torn. Someone in London is fueling the conflict on the Balkan Peninsula by smuggling illicit weapons into the Aegean–"and there is only one likely suspect. The Marquis of Nash has the resources, the contacts and, quite possibly, the deeply divided loyalties. But can Xanthia's subterfuge prove him a traitor to the Crown before her heart is broken?
Zee is initially presented to readers as a woman who doesn’t care what Society thinks of her. She not only works but also owns almost a third of the family business. Our initial view of her shows her wistfully trying to think of a way to have a discrete affair. She wanders off, alone, outside just because she wants to and allows a stranger to kiss her. But then she gets missish. And whenever the plot calls for it, she does it all again. She lets Nash finger her up on Sharpe’s balcony then flees. Then she propositions Nash out of the blue at Henslow’s river party. Then suddenly she’s an oral pro (the first time too) at the masque then it’s whoopee on the tabletop. Then she comes to Nash’s house and, yet at a certain point during the disrobing, gets shy. She’s not a virgin. It’s not even the first time she and Nash have been intimate. Why fall to this standard romance heroine behavior checklist? On the other hand, I liked the parts that show her as a competent business woman.
You did a great job explaining the complex politics behind the plot. A lot better than Madeline Hunter did in “The Rules of Seduction” last year. But then the actual spy and spying bit is boring. After a short time, Zee all of a sudden just “knows” that Nash is innocent. Kemble has some good arguments to refute this but Zee “just knows.” Well, shit, you can’t argue with that. I guess. And the final fallout shows just how much effort Kemble and Vendenheim put into investigating anyone besides Nash. None, or so it would seem. Some investigators these two are. But then you don’t tell readers certain pertinent facts until almost the end either. It keeps the story from being directed away from the growing relationship between Nash and Zee but it makes this part of your plot end up looking ridiculous as well. I wanted to slap Zee for being so stupid about going out to Nash’s house to send him a note. WTF was she thinking? She says she’s been around docks for years and seen everything yet she stupidly heads out late at night then wants Nash to meet her by the docks! What an idiotic move. You didn’t do her any intellectual favors with that scene.
I adore Mr Kemble with his flirtatiousness and his practical mindedness. He can go from decorator to ruthless spy in 7.3 seconds. Yet, see the above paragraph for my thoughts on how well he helped conduct this investigation. I love Kieran and his dry sense of black humor ( the exchange with Kemble about whorehouses and French pox was a scream). But what did he blackmail/bribe his Aunt Olivia with to get her down to see to Cousin Louisa’s comeout?
I found myself skimming the bits about Zee spying on Nash. And some of their love scenes. And their goo-goo moments at Brierwood. This is not a good thing to do in a romance. I was far more interested in scenes with Kieran and Zee or Kieran and Kemble or Kieran escaping into the gardens at Brierwood than many of the ones between the hero and heroine of the book. Even Phae hauling her mother back into conversational line with the references to the weather were better. Though Nash and his valet Gibbons were hilarious too. Sigh…yes it sucks when the secondary characters are the ones mainly keeping me interested in a story.
I’m also not a great fan of most epilogues and this one is almost total waste, except for skirmishes between Phae and Kemble. On the whole, the total book is hard to grade. I loved bits and skimmed a lot as well. C+ maybe?