REVIEW: A Sinful Alliance by Amanda McCabe
Dear Ms McCabe,
Sinful Alliance starts out wonderfully with a Venetian brothel scene showdown between two spies. One of them knows what’s up but the other hasn’t a clue until it’s almost too late. And then only his deep blue eyes save the day. Marguerite knows it’s a calculated risk to get so close to her enemy but it’s the only way to slip her emerald accented dagger into his heart. When she loses the initiative, it’s almost insulting to her to be trussed up and left alive.
Almost two years later, she’s wondering if her espionage talents ever be used again when finally! she gets the summons that frees her from her boring Court cover as the royal princess’s lady in waiting. Intrigue, danger and excitement await her at the court of the English King Henry VIII. Henry is potentially open to shifting English alliance from Spain, the homeland of his increasingly estranged Queen, to France the foster home of his new love interest Anne Boleyn. Marguerite’s assignment is to party with the court, listen to what’s said or not said and further the interests of King Francois in any way she can, up to and including death. It doesn’t take her long to spot the man who humiliated her and upon whom she’ll have revenge.
Nicolai Ostrovsky remembers his initial encounter with Marguerite very well and has hoped for another chance at and with her. He quickly spots her among the courtiers and despite the danger of her highly trained killing skills, he begins to get very up close and personal. Though always with an eye on her weapons since she has more reason for revenge. He’s actually not here for any official purpose, merely available to see to the safety of a friend’s mother who is in England as part of the Spanish delegation.
The action changes fairly quickly from a rivalry between these two to a collaboration both in and out of bed. As their relationship deepens, they both discover a desire to leave the dangerous game they’ve played as spies but as Marguerite is bound to the French King’s service and a bastard with no family to support her, the odds are high against a HEA.
Part of what didn’t work so well for me is the fact that very early in the book, it’s obvious that Marguerite and Nick aren’t going to clash spy-wise. And thus the great setup of these two master spies is wasted. I would have liked to have seen more use made of language to differentiate the French heroine and Russian hero beyond a few words and phrases of each language. I know this takes more time and effort to write but it adds so much to a story.
I know that “A Sinful Alliance” is a sequel to “A Notorious Woman.” Will the Venetian Balthazar Grattiano be future hero? I would think things could be interesting with his trip to new world.
There’s lots of historical and period detail which is nice. It’s interesting to see England as a minor player in European politics as opposed to the usual world power we see in Georgians and Regencies. France, Spain and the various city states of Italy along with the Holy Roman Empire were the power brokers then and England merely a foggy, beef-eating island of bit players. But though it might be a snake pit, the court surrounding the King was it. You show us the power jockeying, sycophantic people always sharp eyed for any advantage. Tilney says it well that court life was the “be all, end all” of the age, everything happened here so you needed to be here, even if you have to put up with King Henry’s badly acted ‘surprise’ parties and endless banquets.
As for the epilogue – thank you for not magically fixing the problem. I’m not really sure why you included this little subplot since it only seems to bother Marguerite when she needs some angst in her life but at least you carried it through. Again, major thanks. B-