REVIEW: The Orphan Pearl by Erin Satie
Dear Ms. Satie:
After recently reading (and loving) book two of your Sweetness and Light series, I turned my attention to remedying the mistake I’d made in not reading all of your No Better Angels series – by picking up this, book three. If memory serves, I read book one first, then book four, then book two. I don’t usually worry much about reading order, but I do think in this case I should have read in order (and read the books closer together). It didn’t affect my enjoyment of this book, but the heroes and heroines of these books and their histories are a bit more intertwined than in your average series.
Here’s a blurb:
Lady Lily Spark has been missing, presumed dead, for years. Now she’s back in England, and in possession of a secret that could change the course of history. And she has no intention of giving it—or herself—up to anyone.
John Tacitus Ware doesn’t know Lily’s secret. All he knows is that she has one—and he’ll have to win it from her if he wants to regain his place at the heart of British diplomacy.
John and Lily are playing a dangerous game, with war and peace as the stakes. But as John’s ruthless ambition collides with Lily’s skilled manipulation, the attraction between them may change the rules for good.
When we first meet the hero, he’s doing something with the mapping of caves, which seems to be a hobby of his since he was drummed out of the diplomatic corps for “radical views.” When we meet the heroine, she is disembarking from a ship in London and heading for the family mansion, ready to present herself as alive to her not-so-fond father.
Lily and John’s paths cross when he is promised a way back into British diplomacy if he can get intelligence from Lily. Lily’s father is a powerful man involved in some complicated political maneuvers involving Russia, France, the Ottoman Empire, Turkey, Britain and possibly other parties (I found this part of the story a little hard to follow). There’s some suggestion that Lily, who is known upon her return to have been living in the Ottoman Empire, in Acara (which is apparently now part of Georgia, if Wikipedia has not led me astray), might hold some secrets that could help the British with their part in delicate negotiations.
Ware is not presented as a suave man, so I was a little confused as to why he was picked for an assignment that essentially involves seduction – emotional if not physical. It may have been that those who made the offer were aware that Lily had once nursed a childhood hero worship for Ware. (He wrote several books detailing his adventures while in service, books a young Lily eagerly devoured.)
Perhaps if I’d read book one of the series, The Secret Heart, more recently, some things about Lily and her past would be clearer to me. There’s a certain opacity in the presentation of information that I think it partly a style choice, but I do think that book contained some information about how Lily’s brother Adam (hero of The Secret Heart) helped her flee an unwanted marriage (and his guilt after she was subsequently reported dead).
Lily and Ware meet, spar, flirt, and attempt to get the better of each other. Their feelings are engaged even though neither wants them to be. I liked the moral ambiguity of both characters: Ware at first seems like a portrait of rectitude. He turns out to be more complicated – he wants to do the honorable thing he’s also ambitious, a little vain, and conflicted about what the right thing actually is. I actual liked that he
Lily is viewed by society as scandalous, due to some fast behavior in London before she disappeared. She views herself as reckless and less than honorable. She has guilt over the death of her Turkish husband, and a belief that she ruins things and then runs away from the consequences.
There’s a subplot involving Ware’s mentor, who wants Ware to murder the rake who dishonored the man’s daughter. Said rake (hero of book four) has a history with Lily as well. Ware has his own reasons for wanting to fulfill his mentor’s wish, but he also has some reservations (both moral and practical) about killing a man in cold blood.
Lily has a complicated relationship with her father (actually, all of Lily’s relationships are complicated). He’s pretty much the villain of the piece, but there is still a sense that Lily yearns for their relationship to be different. I wonder if we got a clearer picture of him in book one, and I’ve just forgotten, or if his treatment of Adam and Lily is meant to be a little ambiguous. Suffice to say, he’s one of those parents who raises his children to be assets, and even potentially weapons, in service of his own goals. He’s not a good guy, and Lily wants to break free of him, but she needs his cooperation in having her declared legally alive so she can claim her inheritance.
There is plenty of heat in the relationship between Ware and Lily – the attraction is very skillfully depicted. The journey from lust to love is a bumpy one, with several external and internal obstacles. The Orphan Pearl was probably my second favorite book in this series, after book four, The Young Blood, and I’m giving it an A-/B+.
I’m a bit sad now that I have to wait for the next Erin Satie book to come out!