Book reviews à la bookworm...The good, the bad, and everything in between.
***copy provided by publisher through NetGalley***
One year after his sister's death at the hands of a sadistic French spy, James Spencer drinks alone in his study, not even bothering to hide from the memories or his guilt, when an unexpected and not unwelcome intrusion comes in the form of his younger brother's governess, Miss Vivian Loren. She's different from the women he knows, she doesn't get queasy at the sight of blood, she drinks brandy like a man, and knows how to perform a field dressing of a wound...But most importantly, she knows grief like James does.
Vivian Loren never meant for the lord of the house, the Duke of Abermont, to notice her. Her entire being depends on not being noticed, since she's in Abermont House under false pretenses, spying in order to learn the name of the man who killed her brother. Unfortunately for her, it soon comes to light her benefactor has no intention of fulfilling his noble promise of providing her with the name, quite the opposite in fact, and Vivian has no choice but to confess everything to James. Fortunately for her, James isn't one of those foppish, disinterested, arrogant dandies strolling through society, and he decides to help her by providing a safe haven for her with his name. She'll become his duchess in order for him to protect her, and she'll help him uncover the true identity of the puppet-master that brought her to his doorstep.
I love it when an author surprises me. In a good way. Ms Monroe was a new-to-me author, with this book available on NetGalley, and boy am I glad I went for it. I'm sorry, I didn't read it sooner.
Grippingly intense and intriguing from the start, this story was a breath of fresh air in the field of historicals available these days. For one, this was a suspense story first with a romance as a bonus and not the other way around as is often the case. The spy-talk, subterfuge and lies that come with the profession weren't sidelined only to be brought up at opportune moments to embellish the overall plot, they were the plot with all the risks the profession brought back in the day of no gadgets and the spies having to rely solely on their own wits, abilities, and intelligence. The action scenes (both the training ones, which were pretty informative, might I add, and that big final showdown) were nicely written, vividly intense, and well-paced.
As I wrote numerous times in the past, it's the characters that make or break the story for me, and the characters in this one were absolutely perfect. The main couple, with their similarities and differences, was a beautiful match of (almost) equals. I loved how, due to the fact of having four stubborn sisters, James knows what women are capable of, what they can endure, and doesn't make an ass out of himself by trying to underestimate Vivian, while also being determined to protect her at all costs, but knowing just what and how to say (showing your emotions is key, here, guys) it to make her see reason without caging or limiting her.
Vivian had her TSTL moments, but that was to be expected due to her grief over her brother, her limited knowledge of self-defense, and her newfound resilience not to let the stubborn man she loved die for her. So, despite those few TSTL moments, she wasn't annoying, and her character developped and evolved nicely throughout the story.
Also, a breath of fresh air in the communication department where the main couple is concerned. The usual trope in historicals is the dreaded miscommunication or inability/unwillingness to communicate between the characters that leads to a misunderstanding that drags on too long and isn't resolved almost until the very end. This one also had one of those (mostly due to the hero's inability to tell the heroine everything, due to his profession), but it was resolved in a matter of pages, because both the hero actually talked to the heroine, and she actually listened and used her brain to process the information instead of letting it fester and drag on and on. Kudos for that.
What was also a breath of fresh air, and dare I say, quite original, was the intimate interaction between James and Vivian. While in (most) other historicals, there's the requisite "seduction scene" somewhere before the hero and heroine actually manage to truly get to know each other, the romance between James and Vivian was utterly chaste until the wedding. Some would say that's because the wedding happens to soon in the book, but even afterward, they actually got to know each other, discover each other's secrets (at least on Vivien's part) before becoming truly intimate, before becoming truly husband and wife. If this story wasn't a good example of how a relationship must be built on trust, I don't know what is.
The supporting cast, although not very involved (except for the younger Spencer sibling), was also well-written and well-characterized, the villain was creepily intense, and I really can't wait to read about the rest of the Spencer sisters (I hope I'm not wrong about Elinor's hero).
I loved this story from beginning to end, the characters were wonderful and they perfectly complemented each other, the romance was "original" and refreshing, so was the foundation of the story and the plot, the villain provided just the right amount of danger and lurking-of-doom without even appearing in the scene, the pacing was spot-on, the action intense and gripping...Perfect.