The thing with this book is that it starts exactly as it promises on its description, and it fills you with hope for some genuine love/hate romance filled with witty repartee, until the hero and heroine are overcome by their feelings and confess their mutual love - hopefully keeping up with the witty repartee.
What it delivers actually, is a very believable, historically accurate and, I must admit it, a bit boring story focused on a mystery that wasn't even that interesting because the main theme in this book is one I hate: Honour Before Reason (caution, this link leads to tv tropes where you may be willingly trapped for days).
A quick example of this trope:
See, someone has been selling adulterated gunpowder with disastrous consequences for the soldiers in the peninsular war - Sebastian, an MP who involved himself in this investigation because... HONOUR!, ended up tracking the mill responsible - one in which Audrianna's father was the official responsible for ensuring the quality in ordnance, so obviously when accusations of his negligence appear he fights to the bitter end to prove his innocence and clear his name. Haha, no. He commits suicide, leaving his wife and two daughters nearly destitute and social pariahs because HONOUR!
Thankfully this stupid HONOUR! gene seems to have skipped Audrianna - or maybe it's a man thing?
In period films they do tend to show them all, from bright young things to wise elders, suffering from huge amounts of ~man pain~ over always doing the honourable thing and how that is always a stupid idea because in the real world no one pats you on the back and goes, "Wow so honourable, I admire you greatly and bow to your manliness." No, they just take advantage of your stupidity.
But I digress.
Audrianna finds a notice in the paper requesting a meeting with her dead father - one almost expects to see the old boy pop out of the grave not to dishonour himself by keeping someone waiting, but thankfully death is the definite cure for this sort of gentleman, so Audrianna decides to meet this mysterious man requesting a meeting herself - risking what is left of her reputation by going alone into an inn, and waiting for a strange man in a room. Because she realises that HONOUR! is not more important than clearing your name and regaining your status so you can go back to your life.
Sebastian, however, also saw the notice and decides to pretend to be Audrianna's father because he is not certain he was indeed guilty and wishes to get to the bottom of this investigation - I cannot vouch that he wouldn't have showed up in place of the dead man just because HONOUR! demands he do so - after all, it was his diligent investigation that drove the man to kill himself, best to HONOUR! his commitments.
In the room he finds Audrianna - he thinks she's the mysterious person who has placed the notice, she believes the same of him, and then suddenly they're making out because that's what you do when a lady is pointing a gun at you demanding answers/a complete stranger shows up in your room demanding answers.
That was the beginning of the romance. That was it. No slow build, agonizing over falling for the man who destroyed her father, no witty repartees, no hate, just arrows.
Yes, arrows, that's how the author describes sexual desire:
"Wicked little arrows of stimulation shot around her body. She valiantly fought to thwart his effect, but those arrows just flashed along their exciting paths, ignoring her ladylike dismay."
So while they're busy... arrowing each other the actual guy who set up the meeting shows up, there's a huge mess, the gun goes off, Sebastian is wounded, the Justice of Peace is called, and now the whole thing turns into a sordid encounter - so obviously Sebastian has to marry Audrianna because HONOUR! demands it.
Don't expect lust/hate filled encounters in their wedding, or loathing slowly turning into love or whatever. They pretty much find themselves married and that's it, they live like a normal married couple with Sebastian's brother, the Marquess who was paralysed during the war, and their mother who is one of society's grand dames but you can't really tell because she only shows up to nag.
I think this is a missed opportunity - there are strong believable women in this book: Audrianna and her friends. But they're all of the passive sort, that old chin up and bear it. Why not have Audrianna take a more active role in the investigation? Why not have the dowager marchioness be a truly strong opponent. Don't tell me ladies can't be ruthless, we'd be here forever if I had to name all the badass ladies ever.
But just an example, from a show filled with ~man pain~, even:
So, the mystery is resolved following a pattern, I'm sure you've managed to divine from this post. Let us hear it...
But when it's all said and done, it is a good book.
Just not what I was expecting...
Madeline Hunter's official site
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