By Stella Riley
I hate to give such a well reviewed and beloved book 2 1/2 stars, but I was sadly quite disappointed in this one. I have a soft spot for loosely connected series, and I had high hopes for this first one as an introduction. It just didn’t work for me. Maybe it’s better on audio.
The book owes much to Georgette Heyer’s work. Of course, Heyer is the queen and in some way most authors who write romances set in this time period owe much to her. But this was way too much. The plot is very derivative and the characters are caricatures. Rosalind is a version of Venetia except blind. She is beautiful unaffected, forthright, and likes to banter. Her blindness is not a problem. It did not affect her well-adjusted and cheerful demeanor a bit. She’s so brave. Amberley is like Damerel except he is blond and laughs hysterically. A Lot. It’s kind of an idiosyncrasy of his showing off what we are told is his quirky sense of humor. Their relationship is similar to Damerel’s and Venetia’s too. They are in a world of their own away from London society, and they are soulmates immediately. Rosalind is lonely and friendless except for her servants and Dominic understands what she needs and fills that role. 10 minutes after they meet, he even kisses her on the lips, much to my consternation. When he reads a scary novel to her they sit next to each other on the couch and hold hands. Ack. He encourages her to walk outside and have a snowball fight. Awww. Once their meeting of the minds and hearts is established, of course they must be parted. Like in Venetia, our hero has an attack of conscience and they part ways. Rosalind is left confused and hurt and ends up in London having a season.
Other parts seem to be lifted from These Old Shades and Devil’s Cub . Amberley shoots a highwayman and leaves him in the road like Vidal. But since he is actually a nice decent guy and not a savage, he does see that the corpse is cleaned up off the road. Oh. They are both named Dominic. His mother is just like Leonie. Rosalind’s brother Phillip and Amberley’s main antagonist owes a lot to Frederick Comyn. Except Phillip wreaks a lot more havoc and is really clueless, not just pompous and conventional. But I really can’t blame him too badly as everyone lies to him by omission and commission. Without him, there wouldn’t have been any melodrama. Everyone has the villain’s number except him, so the villain would be powerless without him being a tool. Rockcliffe, Amberley’s omniscient friend, is another Duke of Avon. There are echoes of lots of other scenes we’ve seen before in Heyer, like instead of the Heyer dog that won’t mind his manners, we have a parrot who curses. But I won’t belabor the point.
The one character that really caught my interest was Isabelle, who was her brother’s fiance and sister to the evil villain. She also was one character who seemed to be an original creation. She had some unexpected facets and was not a pale substitute for a Heyer creation. My only problem with her was that she was too sensible and likable to end up with Phillip.
I hope Stella Riley intended this to be a homage to Heyer. If she did, it was a good homage. She lifted plots and characters, but couldn’t manage the sparkling wit, and the deft and original characterizations, not to mention the smooth weaving of historical detail and culture into the background. But I think I would have preferred to just re-read a Georgette Heyer novel. I’ll round up though, because strange as it may seem, I’m kind of curious to see what she does with the Duke of Avon in new set of circumstances. **2 1/2 out of 5 stars**
June 1, 2021