4 out of 5 Deceitful Stars
It’s been too long since I’ve read some some fluffy and enjoyable historical stuff. I don’t know what to call it -there is some romance, and the setting is romantic, I mean, it’s in England. And I love stuff set in England.
Lady Emily has found herself in the unfortunate weeds of a widow… and is a widow who hardly even knew her husband. And did not love him. And must now mourn him. I totally felt for her – first of all, her mother is a nightmare. Emily was born beautiful and rich and her mother managed to get her married, despite Emily’s wishes. She married Viscount Philip Ashton in a desperate bid to get away from her mother and her constant haranguing. I don’t blame her. If she was my mother, I would have found a way to tangle the fair woman in her skirts and shoved her down the stairs.
Now Lady Emily has to take everyone’s pity and commiserate with his family – who actually did love him. She’s still a young woman, and that nightmare of a mother is already talking to her about finding a new husband. Every man that comes within range of her, mumsy has to start her spiel about the pros and cons of his estate, his family, his money, etc. The only thing Emily likes about being a widow is the freedom. This is the Victorian era and rules about what women did, where they went, what they wore, especially of wealthy women, was excruciatingly limited. As a widow, she can be a little eccentric if she wants, and she does the best she can to push the envelope. What she wants to do is read and study and educate herself, where her family held her back from such things, as they were deemed inappropriate for a woman.
Through her studies, she starts to learn things about her late husband. One of the reasons she married him was because he was an avid hunter who would spend much of his time in Africa. She thought this mean he was kind of vapid and shallow, but his friends and his journals are showing he had another side. He was obsessed with Greek antiquities and literature. And on reading his journals, she discovers, to her surprise, that he was madly in love with her. He admired her wit and intelligence. The more she reads of his thoughts and opinions, the things he writes about the classics, the more she studies the things he enjoyed, she finds herself falling in love with her dead husband.
Amidst all this, there is the rumble that something might not be right about all this. There are rumors that a ring of forgers is working in London. There is some mystery about a bust her husband bought, but she hasn’t found yet – he was known to only buy authentic items, but one of the items he is said to have bought appears in the British museum, which means the one she has must not be real. Only it appears to be. Wanting to find out more, she takes off for Paris to see if she can get to the bottom of it…. and to get away from her mother. There, she falls in with all sorts. Paris has an amazing vibe to it and Emily is a hit. She meets several artists, including someone who “replicates” famous pieces. He swears he’s not doing anything illegal – his clients know his work is imitation – it’s not his fault if they take it to the museum and sell it as authentic. There is also a mysterious man following her. Of course, he had to have a scar on his face because people with disfigurement can’t be trusted. Right? I mean, for fuck’s sake. Can we please stop doing that in books and movies?!
Enter our potential suitors. You can’t have a historical romance without suitors. Both men are her dead husband’s friends and were with him on the fatal trip to Africa. The first is Colin Hargreaves, Greek God in a British body, servant to the crown, rich as all get out… and warning Emily against her new friends, asking her not to involve herself in what is going on and put herself in danger with sordid Parisians. She is irritated at his meddling in her life, but she can’t help but be attracted to him. However, rumors she’s heard, and the fact that he was the last person with her husband before he died has made her start to question just what happened in Africa.
The other potential is the elder brother in the Palmer family. Titled, wealthy, suave, funny and clearly in love with Emily, I’m afraid he was as transparent as an onion peel. That would be my only complaint about this book. I read it for fun times, I wasn’t looking for intense, serious literature – but a lot of it was predictable. I knew what Arthur Palmer was about very early, and I even guessed at what Colin was up to. I wanted to grab Emily and shake her.
And yet the intrigue grows…. she even begins to suspect her dead husband in nefarious deeds! I thought this was at times overly convoluted, there are too many characters, too many Palmers (I couldn’t keep their father, the Lord, and the younger two straight). But it’s a lady detective story, so you have to have red herrings. It’s also very common in actual Victorian action/adventure stories that things are obvious to the reader and the characters are clueless about it.
I read this in two days and really enjoyed it. It was just authentic enough, with a woman of modern sensibilities, that made sense, to make it a real joy to read. I loved the side characters, and how Emily goes about befriending like-minded women. However. About diversity. There isn’t any. It’s all rich white people. And the unfortunate thing with the man and the scar. So yeah, my fave is problematic. I try and notice these things and point them out. I think we need to do better.