I almost didn’t read this book. It was a Regency, with a spy. The blurb used word like “sultry body” and described the hero as “sinfully sensuous.” Groan. However, the editor was Melanie Murray, and Murray was interviewed by us a few months ago so I thought I should give it a try.
Within the first chapter, I knew that this was something different. The heroine, Siena, was a street urchin who was observed to have good instincts and the ability to get out of trouble, even at the age of 12. Marquess of Lynsley trolls these streets to unearth girls such as Siena. He takes them to his school and trains them to be assassins, spies, anything that the crown needs. Many of them do not make it, but the few that do become one of Merlin’s Maidens. Women who will do anything, use anything, to get achieve their objective.
Siena has been training in the arts of seduction, society parlance, hand to hand combat and sword fighting, all to become one of those Maidens. Her mission is to discover which member of the Gilded Page Club is smuggling documents to the French. To do this, Siena portrays herself as a new high flyer seeking a protector. She goes about doing this in such a way that every man is slavering for her attention, including the six she has targeted.
One of the members of the Club is the Earl of Kirtland, a former officer who was court martialed due to failure to obey a superior officer. He’s not entirely shunned by society but definitely is the object of scorn and gossip.
This book had an excellent first half with Siena using all her skills at her disposal–her body, her mind, her sexuality. There is delicious verbal sparring that takes place between almost every character showing some of the famed wit that authors often ascribe to their characters without really showing it. Siena understands that there is no rapier as sharp as the tongue. Kirtland matches her verbal parries and every conversation is a loaded double entendre.
You did a great job showing us Siena’s smarts. She read the reactions of her targets and adjusted her course accordingly. You never told us that she was smart and witty, but every conversation and action, at least in the first half of the book, showed it. To some readers, Siena’s actions might be over the top but I was grateful to see someone who would purportedly do anything actually do things that were outre.
I would have liked to have known that Siena was successful in the past as her tendency toward falling for her subjects made me wonder at her ability to put the objective before all else. In other words, I would have liked to have known that she had the ability to succeed and this one time was different. I also disliked that she was a virgin given that she lived on the streets until she was 12 and then was trained to be a courtesan.
The last half of the book, particularly when the tension between Kirtland and Siena had dissolved, the story lost its steam. The delicacy in which the first part of the story was abandoned for more obviousness. Siena began trusting Kirtland when she had no reason to. He was still a suspect and she began confiding in him like a girl sharing secrets at a slumber party. The villians were clearly marked, making me wonder at Siena’s aforementioned smarts. The sharp witted dialogue full of double entrendres was swept away by a morass of schmaltzy pedantic statements. There was the insertion of obligatory sequel bait. Shake, stir, and deliver.
The negatives aside, though, this series shows promise as does the writing. The first half was definitely worth the price of the book. B-