Adele Ashworth’s first book My Darling Caroline was a true keeper. It had everything – characters, setting, and plot – and was so beautifully written I found myself stopping to re-read passages and marvel. Ms Ashworth’s second book Stolen Charms is just as beautifully written and has fantastic characters both main and secondary. The plot though, is not as well constructed and the book just missed an A rating.
There are so many twists and turns to this plot that to tell much of it would be to give away the story. The book begins in earnest (after the prologue) with Natalie Haislett asking antiques dealer Jonathan Drake to introduce her to a man whom, she says, has long fascinated her, the legendary Black Knight. Natalie, who is not exactly your retiring young miss, comes to his Jonathan’s home unchaperoned. For reasons that become clear later, Jonathan agrees to take her to Europe and introduce her.
The plot takes over when Natalie and Jonathan go to France. Jonathan is trying to steal a valuable emerald necklace that is desired by French Royalists. While engaging enough, the plot definitely took a back seat to the characters.
Natalie Haislett is of good family. She is beautiful, wealthy and unmarried at the age of 23. Not that she has not been asked. She’s been courted by a succession of upper-class twits and, to her family’s dismay, has turned all of them down. Natalie is a passionate soul. In a beautifully written passage, she declares that she wishes to know and be known, love and be loved by her beloved. In turn she wants to know and love him just as intensely. She will not settle for being an ornament and a breeder.
Natalie is not instantly likable, but, after a bit of time, I found myself warming up to her. Her discovery of her mother’s love affair and the hurt that it inflicted on her father, coupled with her mother’s constant sermons of propriety, have made her impatient with the hypocritical standards of society. She wants love and expects fidelity. Natalie is powerfully attracted to Jonathan but wary of his rakish reputation.
Jonathan Drake, the second son of an Earl, uses his antiques business as a cover for the more serious business of serving as a spy for the Foreign Office. Of the two main characters, Jonathan was my favorite. In a memorable speech, he tells of his childhood and his family’s lowered expectations for him as a second son. Jonathan could have been a wastrel, but his own sense of self-worth would not let him. He is patriotic and honorable and close to his brother (the current Earl). He muses that he knows his parents would be proud of the man he has become.
The sexual attraction between Natalie and Jonathan is as intense as can be. The attraction is there from page one and just builds and builds throughout the book. There are two love scenes in Stolen Charms and they are powerful and sensual and written without a trace of purple prose. Aspiring writers would do well to study those scenes to see how a truly passionate love scene should be done.
Despite the sometimes clumsy plot, Stolen Charms gets my vote for one of the best historical romances of 1999. Adele Ashworth is a crafter of beautiful prose and memorable characters. She is a writer with a unique and distinctive voice and one that I predict we will hear more from in the future.