A Lady Never Tells
This book sounded so interesting. Six aristocratic siblings raised in China to someday be of service as spies to the English Crown – swordplay, Kung Fu, acrobatics, espionage. And parts of it were interesting – or at least entertaining. But Lynn Winchester’s A Lady Never Tells sadly falls on its own sword by filling its pages with countless gaffes with aristocratic titles, a lack of understanding of social customs of the time, a mystery that was brimming with holes, and a romance that was mostly internal dialogues.
Twenty-four-year-old Lady Victoria Daring, eldest daughter of the Earl of Gadstoke, has been training her whole life to someday be of service to the King when suddenly, her family is asked to return from China to England “to make yourselves available for Crown business.”
Victoria’s first assignment is to investigate the Earl of Banbridge. Disguised as a maid, she bumps into Richard Downing, Viscount Ganwyd, while delivering drinks at a party. She hurries off but Richard is concerned that he has injured her, so he followsand finds her snooping in the Earl’s study. He is suspicious but also intrigued and then she surprises him by overpowering him and placing the point of a dagger to his throat. She threatens to harm him if he speaks a word of this to anyone and quickly disappears. Richard is even more intrigued – is this woman a spy, and if so, who for? He keeps quiet about the encounter.
A few weeks later, Richard is out with his brother, the Duke of Gwynys, when he is introduced to Lady Gadstoke and her daughters – and he recognizes Victoria, who has been occupying his thoughts recently. She is shocked, and he is thrilled (and confused) to see her. He keeps quiet about their previous meeting – for now. He and his brother are invited to dinner with the Darings and Victoria plans to somehow dissuade Richard of the idea that she and the threatening maid are one and the same. She ends up flirting with him (as a means of distraction) and it backfires:
“Are there no men in China?” he asked, his tone teasing.
Victoria cocked a slow, deliberate smile. “Oh, there are. But I would ask the same about England.”
His burst of deep, rumbling laughter made Vic’s heart jump. She could feel everyone turn to look at them.
“My dear Lady Daring…” he began, but then his smile disappeared. “I can personally attest to my own manhood. In fact, I could prove it to you…”
Heat blasted through her, causing something wicked to simmer beneath the surface…”With strenuous exercise?” she asked.
“And what of you, Victoria? What activities do you find most strenuous?”
“Landscape painting and embroidery.”
“For some reason, those activities do not seem to suit you.”
“Oh? And what does suit me?”
With passages like this, you might expect something a little steamy later on but you would be disappointed. Although there is a lot of innuendo and hot, inner musings, there are just kisses ahead. That’s usually not a big deal for me, but much of the action in the book is based on the plot against the Crown (and it’s a confusing plot at best) so the romance being so light was a bit of a letdown.
The intrigue in the novel is perplexing. I love historical mysteries, but this one was just historical bafflement. The operation to thwart the plot against the Crown – Operation Imperial Twilight – is never thoroughly explained and I often found myself wondering what exactly Victoria was looking for and why her family trusted the man in charge of their work when he gave them such meager information and acted a little creepy. When the head of the conspiracy is exposed my response was ‘who?’ – the character in question is only mentioned a few times as a relation of someone else. Then we find out that this character had planned to kill one of his sons but we are never told why and at the eleventh hour, someone new (or maybe not) is exposed as the true head of the corrupt activities. I know this is a series but the only closure we get at the end of A Lady Never Tells is romantic closure – most of the thugs are still at large. That was a bit unsatisfying after 277 pages.
One of the things I did like about this book was the two leads. Victoria is something new – a regency-era woman raised to be a spy and not a wife. This causes all sorts of internal struggles as she sorts through her feelings for Richard. Will her presence in his life put him in danger? Can she give up her training in order to be a wife and mother? Does she want to? Richard has done the rakish-second-son routine and is bored with it and with debutantes, so Victoria is like a breath of fresh air for him. Richard is kind and honorable and has a great balance of rake and suitor. His character is less-developed than Victoria’s but Ms. Winchester gives us a fine hero for Victoria to lust over and love.
I might have enjoyed Victoria and Richard’s story and maybe even the mysterious plots (a big maybe) but sadly, the number of errors in the book with regards to address and social rules is unforgivable. Lord and Lady Gadstoke allow Victoria to attend the opera alone with Richard saying “Let the young ones go. I trust Victoria”. Nope, that would not have happened. And the naming errors… well here are some examples – Richard Downing, Viscount Ganwyd, is variously called Lord Downing, Right Honorable Lord Richard Downing, and Lord Richard, none of which is correct. Assuming he is a Viscount – and he really shouldn’t have a courtesy title since he is only the second son of a duke – he would be addressed as Lord Ganwyd. Also, Victoria is sometimes called Lady Daring – but that would be her mother. A duke is referred to as Lord Gwynys – not a ‘your Grace’ in sight. There are also strange naming patterns like Michael Bendrake, the heir to the Duke of Benford, and his brother Benjamin Bennington. Why different last names? And no more alliteration please! Did I mention there are six dukes in the book? If you are going to write a regency era novel, you must learn and write by the rules. No excuses!
I remain baffled by the whole criminal plot of A Lady Never Tells but I’m not planning on reading any more of the series in hopes of clearing the confusion. The Regency period errors were just too much and I have a feeling I might be left feeling even more bewildered if I continue!
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