The Lady's Command
I’m always a bit hesitant to start a new series – almost everything seems to be in a series these days. What interested me in this one was that first, it’s listed as the The Adventurer’s Quartet, promising that it won’t be forever ongoing. Second, we start well after the romancing has taken place, something rather different from your typical historical. And once I met the characters, I was pretty well hooked. Luckily, this story held up its end of the bargain, and I found myself quite enjoying the mystery.
Declan Frobisher is in love with Lady Edwina. Luckily, he already caught her, and they were married just three weeks ago. Now, though, the problem is figuring out how exactly their marriage is going to work. Edwina wants a full partnership, to help him at home and in business, to establish themselves as the couple in society. After all, as the daughter of a duke, she is educated and popular, above reproach. She’s also headstrong and determined, which doesn’t work out so well for Declan. The Frobisher family has a secret. The information they trade is more undercover spy work than anything else, hidden within their shipping empire, and Declan wants Edwina to have nothing to do with it. Unfortunately, Declan doesn’t seem to have much of a say in the matter.
When, during their honeymoon, Declan is called in for a mission to West Africa, he is adamant that Edwina stay behind, even as he convinces her of the safety of the short voyage. Well, he must have convinced her a little too well, because Edwina smuggles herself aboard and, when she finds out about his mission, insist on helping him. And it’s a good thing she does – there’s more going on than originally thought.
It’s really interesting to see a romance novel that starts mid-honeymoon, especially when it’s an historical. Normally, the plot is about how our intrepid couple falls in love, but here, that part of their story is almost unimportant. As it stands, this book is much more mystery than romance, although it lacked a certain sense of…urgency. The common historical plot points (getting the couple together, working through dislike/family issues/unscrupulous past, etc) are nowhere to be found. Instead, the relationship drama is solely because of Edwina’s more adventurous side clashing with Declan’s attempts to keep her out of danger. While it gives the reader the chance to see their relationship deepen, I felt like we were told that their marriage matured and that they grew as a couple, instead of actually seeing it. By narrating quickly through the voyages between London and Freetown, we miss a lot of their romance.
Luckily, the characters make up for the lack. First of all, Edwina is smart. Really smart. And we get a lot of evidence of that, from basic dialogue to her practically solving the puzzle before them in West Africa. For example:
“Just so I have this issue clear, as long as my intention is to protect you, then you’ll accept whatever decisions I make?” She raised her head, met his eyes, and smiled — gently, reassuringly. Then she stepped closer, came up on her toes, and lightly touched her lips to his. Drawing back, her hand on his chest, she stated, “I accept that, in seeking to protect me, you will make such decisions.” (p. 63)
She twists Declan’s words ever so slightly, and Declan barely notices. He has absolutely no clue that Edwina is going to steal away with him, and is astonished when he finds her curled up inside a trunk. She literally had herself shipped aboard in a specially-made trunk, so that no one else would be in trouble for her actions. Edwina rules much of her world, but her power and potential self-centeredness are tempered by an astounding sense of noblesse oblige, the obligation of those with to help those without. Instead of the general nod to convention most give it, Edwina truly believes it is her responsibility to help others, and doesn’t hesitate to take action.
Declan may not be as smart as his wife, but he has knowledge of the world that she lacks, plus instant access to adventure and possibility with his ship, The Cormorant. Plus, you know, he’s absolutely head-over-heels for her. It’s really lovely to read a story where the man has completely fallen in love, and the woman is more “I am really coming to adore my husband.” There are times that, as a result, Edwina comes across as caring more about her marriage than her husband, but those are thankfully few. And even so, Declan doesn’t seem to mind, so there’s that.
Set up over four books, we don’t have all the answers yet. And while I enjoyed Edwina and Declan, I missed the romance side of the story. I will definitely be looking for the next in the series – not only do I want to know how the story plays out, it looks like the next book contains a bit more of the traditional courtship story. Definitely something to look forward to.