REVIEW: The Adventurers by Jane Aiken Hodge
‘You may be an adventurer, but you strike me as a gentleman.’
After the French suffer a bloody defeat at the battle of Leipzig, the survivors of Napoleon’s army retreat through Germany. Plundering and pillaging along their way, a group of stragglers attack the Von Hugel estate. Hiding in the hayloft, Sonia von Hugel witnesses the massacre of her family. Apparently the sole survivor at the castle, Sonia is left desperate and alone.
Forced to flee for her safety, Sonia disguises herself in her brother’s clothes and begins a treacherous journey through the mountains. But, lost and weary, Sonia stumbles into a inn and finds her fate intertwined with charming rogue Charles Vincent. With no one left to help her, can Sonia trust this stranger with her life?
As the pair embark upon an adventure to gamble their way through the camp followers of Napoleon’s Russian retreat, they find themselves in increasing danger. But is Sonia as safe with Charles as she thought? Or does he have other more sinister motives?
Filled with action and adventure, suspense and intrigue, this sweeping historical romance set in 1813 whisks readers across 19th century Europe.
The Adventurers was first published in 1965 and was also published as Royal Gamble.
Three years ago I finally read a Jane Aiken Hodge book. “Greek Wedding” might actually have been the place to start because as bad as it was for me, I could only hope that her other books would all be better. Indeed the next one I read, “Marry in Haste,” I managed to finish. But still the magic hadn’t hit me. One book that usually got rave comments is “The Adventurers” but it hadn’t been rereleased digitally so I put it on my wish list. Many times I almost bought a used copy but I kept hoping. At last, I saw it was going to be out soon as an ebook and I snagged a review copy. Fans, you did not steer me wrong.
The blurb made me pause. A heroine who witnesses her family being massacred? (TRIGGER WARNING) Hmmm, maybe not the best way to start a book but indeed that is what happens along with an implied rape of a servant by some of the French soldiers. Then rampaging Cossacks arrive and massacre the French and there are bodies everywhere. This is when we first see Sonia’s backbone. She’s a survivor and honestly couldn’t have done anything to save anyone if she’d stormed out of hiding. With survival on her mind, she makes a plan and heads off only to meet Charles Vincent at an inn. There they pass an evening playing cards with two Austrian officers and discover each is a talented card player.
By the next morning, they have another plan. They’ll pass themselves off as siblings and using their talent, they’ll play their way across Europe. With their talent, they’ll clean up and finance Sonia’s way to estranged relatives in England. Soon the plans are altered a bit more but serviceable all the same. With an older woman to lend them countenance, they catch up to the Allied Headquarters and begin to entertain the bored officers and diplomats.
Napoleon is in retreat and the squabbling Allies need to hold their alliance together long enough to put an end to his military tyranny. But Sonia and Liz begin to notice that Charles is doing more listening at times than card playing. He also disappears for a few days at a time on unknown trips to meet with people he refuses to tell the women about. Arriving in France, they rent a house only for Liz to meet up with someone from her past – a man she had loved but who had turned from her when his family objected.
But the wars aren’t over yet and there remains one mad dash across France to Paris. Will the Allies be victorious? Will the French populace turn on our adventurers? Will Charles’s mysterious journeys ever be explained? Can Liz and her former love discover the truth about their past? And what will happen when the autocratic Lady Elinor Denbigh arrives?
Yeah so the opening scene is stark. Aiken Hodge doesn’t shy away from the fact that war was raging across the European landscape and there are several close calls as the group travels from Germany through France. I was also a bit annoyed with Sonia at first as she seemed to be turning into a whining brat with Liz making excuses for her. Then it hit me that Sonia was reacting to the violence she’d seen and trying to deal with probable survivor guilt. She does settle down into sassy and gives Charles several pieces of her mind as the story continues. Their sparring matches are fun to read and show Sonia’s got more than enough backbone no matter that she’s only eighteen.
Then the second romance gets started – or restarted. And Liz doesn’t cut any corners with him either. Giles Denbigh might be highly thought of by Lord Castlereagh but Liz tells Giles exactly what she thought and still thinks of how he abandoned her with her reputation in shreds. Events keep throwing them together though and before long it’s Giles who feels on the back foot and fending off two angry women.
The historical details woven into the story gave me a great education about what happened during and after the last battles of 1813/14 but before the famous Congress of Vienna that features in so many regency novels. I liked that there are heroes and good people on all sides and that when Giles gets the chance, he doesn’t hesitate to publicly win his lady fair. This is a smart, well plotted novel with intelligent people who (pretty much) act intelligently. A-