Dear Ms. Beverley,
First off, this book not only has many of the same characters as WINTER FIRE, it is a direct sequel. For readers who haven’t read that one or don’t know the world of the Mallorens, then they can probably muddle along as you do a good job of giving a quick synopsis of events so far without dumping copious amounts of information into the story. But people will understand things better having read the other books first.
Plot: Miss Damaris Myddleton (may I ask what’s with the ‘y”s in your characters’ names) is a suddenly wealthy heiress who had her solicitors draw up a list of needy, titled, single men in England. She picked the Marquess of Ashart, went to his drafty, cold, falling down home and met his formidable grandmother who, for Damaris’s loads of money, gave her approval to the match. However, before Ashart actually gets around to proposing, he falls in love with Genova Smith (see WINTER FIRE) and proposes to her.
Damaris is humiliated as everyone at the Marquess of Rothgar’s Christmas house party knew of her expectations and watches Ashart’s very public, very impassioned proposal to Genova. It is left to Ashart’s impoverished friend and dogsbody Mr. Fitzroger to save her from making a cake of herself and show her a way to save face.
Octavius Fitzroger is a man with a past scandal in his life who survived the Army and now works in the shadows as a sort of bodyguard. What no one knows is that Ashart is under a dire threat to his life and Rothgar has hired Fitz to guard him until his marriage is over and the threat can
be eliminated. He has also come to admire Damaris but realizes that he is a most unsuitable man for her hand in marriage. With this in mind, he and Rothgar have devised a plan for him to flirt with Damaris to a) divert her from the happy couple of Ashart and Genova and b) to ready
Damaris for court life and the number of men, fortune hunters and otherwise, who will try to woo her.
But danger lurks as attempts are made on Damaris’s life and the secret that threatens Ashart must be solved. And as Damaris finds herself falling in love with a man whose honor forbids him to try to win her even as she decides he is the only man for her.
This book is hard to grade as I really liked some parts and others annoyed me. I love the world of the Mallorens. 18th century England, with the flamboyently dressed men and women, the age of reason, inventions, wigs, power and wealth. I like how your titled men in this series don’t go around spying for England but rather act as Marquesses and Earls of the age would have. They stay in England, they take care of their dependents, they go to court and hold public levees and try to influence the King. No smugglers, no spies, or anything of the sort. They are considerate of their servants but aren’t out marching for servants rights or allowing them to call their betters by first names. They have immense power and by gosh, they act like it. I like the brief glimpses we get of some of the other Mallorens but it’s not used as a chance to trot
each and every one of them out and some aren’t mentioned at all.
But…I just never really did warm up to Damaris. She has moments of selfishness and tries to manipulate things to her own liking with little regard for others, including the man she is supposed to love. Only after the possible negative impact of her acts is pointed out to her does she regret them but then goes right ahead and does further things. She is intelligent but you are constantly having Fitz or others remark on this as if to convince us all of how wonderful a
heroine Damaris is. And Fitz keeps allowing Damaris to control him and get her own way. Plus the first love scene is one of those “oh, God I can see this coming from a mile away and it makes no sense” scenes.
Ashart and Genova have large supporting roles. Genova holds one’s sympathy but Ashart comes off as a cross between a goo-goo eyed idiot in love and a bratty bully. Was he like this in Winter Fire and I just don’t remember?
Then, the mysteries surrounding Ashart and Damaris are solved fairly quickly after a big to-do is made for most of the book. Both sort of felt rushed. Another problem was the resolution of Fitz’s past scandal. At first it seemed so bad but by the end you have made Fitz out to be little more than a poor misused young man.
I can’t recommend this one wholeheartedly but if readers enjoy this series, then they’ll probably at least want to read it. Oh, one kind of neat point is that Fitzroger is the descendant of the couple in DARK CHAMPION. C+/B-