Julia folded the original piece of paper and put it back in its hiding place in the drawer. She quickly folded the copy she had made into a very small square and held it in her palm. Too nervous to look anymore, she closed the drawer and stood up, grabbing the keys off the desk. She strode to the door and listened. Not hearing anything, she carefully opened the door.
She looked both ways in the corridor and then stepped out and closed it behind her. She still had to take the keys back to the valet’s room. She started toward the stairs and then remembered she ought to relock the door.
Her heart pounded as she went back and started fumbling with the keys, making them jingle in the stillness of the empty hallway. Finally, she found the right key and locked the door and then hurried away, clutching the keys against her thigh to keep them quiet.
On the top floor, Julia moved quickly to Roger’s room, hung his keys where she had found them, and turned to leave. If anyone found her now, she’d never be able to explain what she was doing in her uncle’s valet’s sleeping quarters. She hurried to the door and stepped out, closing the door behind her.
She practically flew through the corridor and down the servants’ stairs to her own room. She went inside and fell across her bed, still breathing hard, her hands trembling, and a dampness on her forehead and her back.
Spying was quite the most terrifying thing she had ever done.
In England’s Regency era, manners and elegance reign in public life—but behind closed doors treason and deception thrive. Nicholas Langdon is no stranger to reserved civility or bloody barbarity. After suffering a battlefield injury, the wealthy, well-connected British officer returns home to heal—and to fulfill a dying soldier’s last wish by delivering his coded diary.
At the home of the Wilherns, one of England’s most powerful families, Langdon attends a lavish ball where he meets their beautiful and intelligent ward, Julia Grey. Determined to maintain propriety, he keeps his distance—until the diary is stolen and all clues lead to Julia’s guardian. As Langdon traces an evil plot that could be the nation’s undoing, he grows ever more intrigued by the lovely young woman. And when Julia realizes that England—and the man she is falling in love with—need her help, she finds herself caught in the fray. Will the two succumb to their attraction while fighting to save their country?
I love the Regency era and I love suspense, so when I saw this book was coming out I was keen to review it. I have Melanie Dickerson’s fairy-tale retellings on my TBR list, but haven’t quite gotten round to reading them yet, so for me, this book was an introduction to her writing in general, not simply a new genre. Unfortunately I found myself a little disappointed with the book, which was quite slow for the first half, and mediocre in terms of its characters and writing.
Although there is a small amount of action on the spying front in the first half of the novel, it doesn’t really get underway until about half-way through. Instead, we spend a lot of time doing social visits and following Julia and her cousin Phoebe to ballrooms. Phoebe is determined to make Nicholas Langdon fall in love with her and has demanded Julia’s help in the endeavour, while Julia tries to avoid the attention of Mr Edgerton and suffers the indignity of being publicly humiliated by the mother of another suitor (somewhat reminiscent of Lady Catherine de Bourgh’s diatribe to Elizabeth Bennet).
The first half of the book may not have seemed quite so slow if I hadn’t felt like I was stuck inside the character’s head for so much of it. At times it felt to me as though the action was happening in the background – I was aware of movement and colour, and I was told what was happening, but I wasn’t actively engaged because the character was too busy thinking about things and telling the reader how they felt while everything was going on. Imagine someone else is watching the scene and describing to you what is happening, but you can’t actually see it; that’s the kind of feeling I got, particularly in ballroom scenes.
When the spying did get underway the story became more engaging, but then about 80% of the way through the book this plot all but wrapped up, and still the book stretched on before the romance reached a resolution. I felt as though the characters were simply dithering around in the end, each hoping that the other would be the first to say something, which may well have been in character but was annoying nonetheless.
Speaking of characters, these ones came across as one-dimensional to me. Their defining characteristics were over-emphasized and a bit exaggerated (sometimes to the point of being cheesy), and their conversations often felt unnatural (which made the obvious borrowings from Jane Austen stick out, such as ‘securing someone’s affections’ and so on). The plot also felt a little contrived – some points more than others – and overall there was too much telling and not enough showing for my liking.
In short, I really wanted to like it, but I just couldn’t turn off my internal editor on this one.
I received a complimentary copy of this book through Netgalley in exchange for my honest review.
Release date: 9 February 2016
Publisher: Waterfall Press
Author’s website: http://www.melaniedickerson.com/