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Monday, June 14, 2010

'Most Eagerly Yours' Her Majesty's Secret Servants #1 by Allison CHASE

Received from the publisher

From the BLURB:

Raised on their uncle's country estate, the four orphaned Sutherland sisters formed a close friendship with the young Princess Victoria. Shortly before her coronation as queen, Victoria asks the sisters to serves her in matters requiring the utmost discretion.

They are to become her secret servants. The first to serve is Laurel- who poses as a widow to uncover a traitor, and discovers instead an irresistible rogue conducting his own undercover investigation.

The Sutherland’s, a Surrey family of modest means, have close ties to Queen Victoria from Mr. Sutherland having served with her father in the Seventh Royal Fusiliers. When we meet them in 1830, the Sutherland children (four girls) are dear friends to the wide-eyed young Victoria, who shall one day be crowned Victoria of the United Kingdom. They are children, Laurel the eldest at 16, and wholly unaware of Victoria’s growing importance. But the young royal is becoming increasingly self-aware, and insists she cut ties with her dear Sutherland friends (lest they be put in jeopardy for their affiliation with the soon-to-be Queen?).

The story then skips ahead to 1838 and Victoria’s impending coronation prompts a delicate royal-family matter requiring finesse and the help of her dear old friends, the Sutherland sisters. Specifically, Victoria requests Laurel Sutherland’s help in keeping a watchful eye on her illegitimate cousin, Lord Munster George Fitzclarence. ‘Fitz’ has been openly insubordinate of the crown and loud in his abhorrence of Victoria’s upcoming coronation. Victoria suspects assassination, and wants Laurel to cosy up to the drunkard and glean any damning information she can while Fitz is visiting Bath.

Simultaneously; Earl of Bensforth, Aidan Phillips, is working for the Home Office investigating the seemingly accidental death of MP Roger Babcock. Babcock drowned in the Baths at Bath (a particularly gruesome death, when the body was found the sauna had literally ‘cooked’ him... eew!).

Laurel and Aidan met, briefly and anonymously, in 1837. In a scene that feels ‘tacked on’ in a last-minute decision to justify future romantic fascination. Aidan rescued Laurel from a trampling crowd when she was rescuing a young child from the same fate. Aidan rode in on his stead, did the hero bit (and stole a kiss) and then rode away again - all without exchanging names. Aidan and Laurel meet again, conveniently, during Laurel’s spying on Fitz and Aidan’s murder investigation – both taking place in Bath. They recognize each other, but have to retain their secret identities during the course of their separate missions. But that doesn’t stop them from feeling the heat that left Laurel’s lips tingling on a crowded street last year, and piqued Aidan’s interest at the same time.

Phew!
If it seems like there is a lot going on in ‘Most Eagerly Yours’ you would be absolutely correct.
The book has quite a mystery-heavy plot, which is at odds with the bodice-ripping cover. True, this is still an ‘historical romance’, but I have a feeling that most readers would give up on the book half-way through when the ‘whodunnit’ looks to overshadow the romance.

Aidan’s investigations lead him to one Claude Rousseau and his pedalling of an ‘elixir’ which is supposedly restorative (à la the ‘fountain of youth’) but which Aidan believes is a money-making hoax.

Laurel’s spying is unearthing long-forgotten horrors from her childhood – namely the night her family’s house mysteriously burned down, killing her parents. The appearance of a caped man who calls her ‘Simone’ and awakens those memories of licking flames add to her disturbance...

Like I said - *PHEW!*

That’s four separate (but eventually connected) ‘mystery’ plots in one book. A murdered MP, ‘fountain of youth’ scam, an unhappy royal cousin and a cold-case house-fire. Phew! Allison Chase jam-packs too much into this first book to the point that you can’t really sink your teeth into any of the mysteries’. Chase layers mystery upon intrigue that eventually tangles readers and muddies the storyline. The result of too many convoluted, interwoven plots is a lukewarm romance that really should have been the central focus.

Chase gets so caught up in these mystery plotlines that Laurel and Aidan take a backseat to her sleuth writing, to the point that they come across as convenient puppets to play out the various mysteries.

Aidan, in his disguise for the Home Office, plays up his ‘rakish’ behaviour – allowing him to enter the card tables and gambling halls of the Ton’s finest, with London’s major societal players being none the wiser to his spying. I quite liked Aidan – he’s a card shark, debaucher and spy – what’s not to love? But you get the impression that he is going through the motions of this raucous lifestyle, using his ‘rake’ disguise and spy work to take his mind off of more troubling thoughts. And sure enough, Aidan has a rather dark and depressing past that he is always trying to push to the back of his consciousness. He’s quite a complicated, endearing hero, and probably the only part of this book I enjoyed.

Laurel is a nit-wit. Sorry, but she is. I think my problem with Laurel was the fact that she’s playing at spying – but never a convincing sleuth. She’s not supposed to be a spy-master by any means; she is a Surrey maiden who is plucked from the country lifestyle to help a friend (Queen Victoria, but still). I think this book (and the whole premise of the ‘Secret Servants’ series) would be a lot stronger if the heroines were accomplished spies. How much more fascinating this series’ concept would be if our female protagonist’s were only playing at being Ton ladies, when they are in fact deadly royal spies! That’s what I thought this series would be about – instead I get four orphaned country misses who are muddling their way through espionage. What a let-down.

Aidan and Laurel’s romance is tepid, at best. Mainly because Chase has written a convoluted mystery mess that pushes their romance to the backburner. The sex scenes are competent, but when coupled with a tenuous romantic interest they feel cold;

... and for a heart-stopping second that arm lay across the front of Laurel’s jacket. The world seemed to begin and end at that small place of contact just above her breasts; her nipples tightened in response, and all her awareness converged on the heat infused by his forearm, so that the room and the people filling it might not have existed.
It was over in a moment, leaving her unnerved and bewildered that her reaction to him could be so powerful.

The book’s back cover promises it to be: ‘First in a spectacular new series of historical romance - sexy with a touch of intrigue.’ Well, the ‘intrigue’ is there (drowning in it!) but the ‘sexy’ still needs a bit of work. I think Chase needed to strengthen the entire premise of her ‘Secret Servants’ plot. It could have worked so much better if her heroine’s were *real* spies, mixing with Ton society, rather than country girls making good on a tenuous friendship with Queen Victoria.

This is the first book in Chase’s ‘Her Majesty’s Secret Servants’ series – with a second book entitled ‘Outrageously Yours’ due for release later this year.

2/5

2 comments:

  1. hmmmm great review! not really something I would pick up unless it came with some outstanding reviews LOL

    thanks! hehe

    ReplyDelete
  2. Hrmmm....not sure about this one.

    ReplyDelete