A Duke, the Spy, an Artist, and a Lie
The final instalment of Vanessa Riley’s Rogues and Remarkable Women series, A Duke, the Spy, an Artist and a Lie suffers from and yet thrives upon the one thing that pushes the story forward: the utter inability of the hero and heroine to sit down and tell each other the truth. It’s the weakest of a series which started out so strongly, and yet I loved the heroine and enjoyed the hero for the most part. The problem, however, is the romance between them.
The wonderfully-named Lord Gantry, David Felton Lance (who goes by his middle name) is a spy for the Crown, assigned to work in Demerara in the West Indies. After failing at a critical juncture of his mission to bring down a smuggling ring, he bumps into the adventurous Jamaican heiress Cecilia – Cilla – Thomas (the sister of Patience, heroine of the first book in the series) as she takes an evening stroll. She lies to Dutch soldiers – who accuse them of suspicious behavior – that he is her escort in order to get them out of trouble. This leads to Cilla and Felton becoming fast friends, and the two of them impulsively agreeing to enter into a marriage of convenience.
For Cilla, it’s a way to get away from the marriage mart and the many men who want to wed her for her fortune instead of true love, and she deeply wants to pursue her love of painting. Felton will gain a mother for his two children, money for his estate, and the marriage will protect him from the Dutch soldiers trying to kill him (and who have successfully killed his colleagues).
The marriage is set in stone, but when Lord Gantry stows Cilla away at his London home after the ceremony while he goes off to continue his thinly-explained spying missions, Cilla becomes fed up with his excuses. The marriage is companionable but lacks honesty; the children, Amelia, and Agatha, thrive, she makes a friend in her father-in-law, the Duke of Tramel, and she has all the time she wants to paint. But the rest of his family refuses to respect her authority as Felton’s wife, and her wishes, especially instructions to the servants, are often ignored or circumvented by his sister, Lady Jane, and the household staff. Most everyone ignores her except for the children and Tramel, and she buries her feelings in her art, paintings only they get to see.
While Cilla feels the need to hide her true emotions from Felton, he feels the need to lie to her to protect his work, leading to a never-ending cycle of missed milestones, and them constantly fighting and making up. She doesn’t know that he’s trotting the globe looking for the double agent who betrayed his comrades, resulting in that disastrous night on Demerara. He’s not there when her father dies. He falsely accuses her of infidelity with his odious cousin Gladstone (who in fact tried to assault her), and she storms back home. There, Cilla’s sister Helena passes away of childbed fever after delivering a baby in the underbrush, the result of being seduced, married, abandoned and sold into slavery by – you guessed it – Gladstone, the same cousin Felton accused Cilla of having an affair with, and who is now making eyes at Lady Jane. Cilla finds herself taking care of her newborn nephew, Noah, and promptly devotes her life to taking down the evil cousin. Possessed with a new purpose, she makes contact with Widow’s Grace, an organization which helps women to claim revenge on those who try to mistreat and oppress them. They give Cilla a new identity, and she takes the baby to Covent Garden and gets to work.
As far as Felton knows, however, his wife has abandoned their marriage, and he is devastated and remorseful. Months later, a chance encounter gives them a second chance at love, but can they figure out how to be truthful with one another this time? Since Felton thinks Cilla is hiding their child from him, you can bet on a bumpy ride.
All of those plot twists happen within the first hundred pages of A Duke, The Spy, An Artist and A Lie, which is a rich novel loaded with Riley’s usual deep, dark angst and drama. But it’s never a good sign when I want the heroine to be with someone else, and I kept hoping that The Duke of Tramel and Cilla might find love together, in spite of her protestations that they were only friends (and the fact that he’d mishandled Lady Jane and Felton’s childhoods with multiple bad marriages and poor custodial situations.) That doesn’t mean Felton is a bad guy, and he has a reason to lie (at least at first), but the only reason the book’s conflict goes on for so long is because Felton makes assumptions and Cilla, understandably, refuses to trust him with her truth. On one hand, this lack of trust is understandable – his response to her questions is to pamper her into forgiveness with food and foot rubs – on the other, one wants to sit this couple down and plead with, nay, beg them to talk. Eventually Felton has to learn to share his life with Cilla, but it takes too much of the book for them to get there, especially with Gladstone lurking about.
The plot is sufficiently twisty and will break your heart, and I genuinely liked Cilla and Felton as people. As always, the author’s research is impeccable, and Riley has a way of writing about food that makes her prose completely edible. But A Duke, the Spy, an Artist, and a Lie couldn’t quite make me root for the central couple, even though everything else definitely brings the book into B territory.
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Lisa Fernandes is a writer, reviewer and recapper who lives somewhere on the East Coast. Formerly employed by Firefox.org and Next Projection, she also currently contributes to Women Write About Comics. Read her blog at http://thatbouviergirl.blogspot.com/, follow her on Twitter at http://twitter.com/thatbouviergirl or contribute to her Patreon at https://www.patreon.com/MissyvsEvilDead or her Ko-Fi at ko-fi.com/missmelbouvier