Sarah MacLean opens a new series with a bang in Bombshell. Revisiting characters from previous books – most notably The Day of the Duchess – she finally delivers a love story for Sesily Talbot, the remaining ‘Soiled S’ Talbot sister left unmarried. However Sesily is no retiring spinster. Instead we discover she’s leading a secret life as part of a network of free-thinking women with hopefully many more stories to come in the new Hell’s Belles series.
While Bombshell clearly builds on events from prior books, it stands alone as the start to a new series and shouldn’t pose a problem for any new readers. From the first page, it’s obvious where things stand: Sesily Talbot and Caleb Calhoun pine for each other. Caleb is a friend of Sesily’s sister Seraphina and quickly fell for Sesily upon meeting her, but holds himself back from acting on his feelings for a mysterious reason. Sesily likewise quickly fell for Caleb when they met in The Day of the Duchess, but was hurt when he fled home to America rather than spend more time with her and explore their mutual interest. As the book opens, Caleb is returning to England for a visit after two years away, hoping he can resist the temptation to pursue Sesily, while Sesily is busy working with the Hell’s Belles and trying to forget Caleb exists.
Those resolutions don’t last long, however. Caleb seeks Sesily out at a ball on his very first night back, and she manages to kiss him during the same encounter. Like the opening bell of a wrestling match, that kiss seems to signal the start of all the action. The two begin to circle each other, with each new confrontation bringing them ever closer despite their efforts to stay apart.
While Caleb’s reasons for avoiding a relationship with Sesily remain obscure until almost the end of the book (so I will avoid ruining the surprise here), Sesily is clear about her reservations. Not only is she getting severly mixed messages from Caleb about his intentions – he almost flees back to America after a night with her – but she’s also wary of what involvement with him would mean for her activities with the women’s network. And rightly so.
After Caleb fled from her the first time, two years before this story begins, Sesily was recruited by the Duchess of Trevescan to become involved in a group pursuing, on a broad level, women’s independence. After honing her skills for violence and mischief, Sesily is prepared to handle a variety of scenarios. She helps women escape or avoid abusive relationships, holds her own in a bar fight, and has been known to transport dead bodies when called for. All of this is kept secret from her family, although it is clearly an important part of her character. Knowing that Caleb understands this piece of her is an important step for Sesily in their relationship.
Unfortunately, while Caleb frequently says he understands and respects Sesily’s capabilities, his actions frustratingly said the opposite to me. Specifically related to his mysterious reason for avoiding a relationship – after Sesily shared her dangerous secret and pastime with him – Caleb should have been able to open up to her. By not respecting and trusting her enough to share his secret, or include her in decisions about the fate of their relationship, Caleb made a lie out of all of his promises of understanding. Sesily is a kickass heroine and deserved someone who treated her like a partner instead of an object for protection.
While Caleb’s behaviour definitely prevents Bombshell from being a DIK, my liking for Sesily, her girl group, and the genuine chemistry between her and Caleb kept this at a B. MacLean delivers on a lot here, not least the promise of more books for this interesting band of women!